Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy has been reflecting on people with depression and how to help them get free of the blues, starting from research at Ohio State University that focused on 122 adults with moderate or severe depression. The results were published in The journal of Positive Psychology in January.
We know in our work at the Irish Chaplaincy that that little act of kindness can be transformative; and in the case of people in prison, who might be in particular despair, an act of kindness can be life-saving.
What this new study concludes is that the person giving the act of kindness is also helped. The participants were split into three groups. One group was required to carry out kind acts for others twice a week for ten weeks; a second group participated in planned social activities; and the third group were subject to a cognitive behaviour technique known as cognitive reappraisal. This involves the person being helped to recognise when their thoughts follow negative patterns and to make the thoughts more positive. As for the kind acts, they included things like baking biscuits for friends, offering lifts to people and writing notes of encouragement for housemates.
For those in the ‘kind acts’ group there was a greater improvement in depressive symptoms than for those in the other two groups. Dr David Gregg who led the study concludes, “Something as simple as helping other people can go above and beyond other treatments in helping people deal with depression and anxiety.” His colleague, Dr Jennifer Cheavers added, “We often think that people with depression have enough to deal with, so we don’t want to burden them by asking them to help others. But these results run counter to that. Doing nice things for people and focussing on the needs of others may actually help people with depression and anxiety feel better about themselves.”
After all, Jesus did not send individuals to preach the Good News but pairs, and he told them to accept the gifts they were offered. (Luke 10) So let’s not wait till we are depressed, or they are depressed, but get on our feet and walk a little way alongside our friends and family members, or invite them to tea; to cheer them up, and get out of our own head for a while.