Mental & Behavioral Health

Is Kindness the Key to Solving the Mental Health Epidemic?

Mental Health

Around 1 in 5 (21%) adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021 (27 January - 7 March); this is an increase since November 2020 (19%) and more than double that observed before the COVID-19 pandemic (10%). We’re living in the midst of a mental health epidemic, and it’s clearer than ever that amongst boosting the array of professional solutions, kindness could be the secret to improving well-being. Showing love isn’t just reserved for your partner or Valentine’s Day; it can be extended to colleagues, friends, even strangers. Simply being kind to someone can make a massive difference in their outlook and general mood, and your own. How can kindness as a practice be used as a tool within psychotherapy, and what are the advantages?

The work of Hans Selye is essential for discussing this phenomenon; he argued that to reduce the negative effects of everyday stressors, we need to do good for others and thus advocated for altruistic egoism. This means that for someone to be happy and healthy, they must help others. Showing love and gratitude to others leads to greater feelings of satisfaction and security, according to Luks and Payne (2001), which is often why the wellness industry encourages journaling, reflection, and gratitude for the day-to-day aspects of our life that we usually skip over.

The science of kindness has been widely studied, and it has been found that it can directly affect us on a physiological level. The secret is oxytocin, often touted as the ‘love hormone,’ which improves feelings of social connectedness and positive feelings when released. It also fires up the neural networks related to reward when we’re kind or see others experience kindness. Oxytocin also directly affects the amygdala to reduce its activity. According to a study by Petrovic, Kalisch, Singer, and Dolan, those with pre-conditioned fear and high levels of activity in the amygdala experienced a reduction in fear and amygdala activity when given a dose of oxytocin. For those with anxiety and depression, it may seem counterintuitive to focus on showing love and kindness to others when they may be in dire need of it themselves, but it’s shown to be a quick and effective way of boosting mood.

Social media often encourages us to indulge in self-care and self-compassion, telling people to fill their own cup first before they begin to help others. Still, research shows that it can be more beneficial to focus outward rather than inwardly. While neglecting yourself at the expense of others is not advocated for, a healthy dose of outward kindness can do wonders when it comes to mental health. A recent experimental study found greater increases in positive emotion in participants who recalled an act of kindness intended to benefit another person than participants who recalled an act of kindness intended to benefit themselves (Wiwad and Aknin, 2017). Additionally, kindness to benefit others was coded as being more kind and impactful than performing kind acts for others, with a focus on the self (Wiwad and Aknin, 2017). This shows that while self-care is an effective form of improving one’s sense of well-being, concentrating on being kind to others can propel this.

According to studies of those with low or moderate levels of well-being but no clinical symptoms, “positive psychology interventions used for selective and indicated prevention purposes may be especially effective, as those people are likely motivated to improve their well-being.” (Lyubomirsky et al., 2011) Yet, it remains unclear whether performing kindness is effective in improving overall mental well-being and psychological distress because most studies to date mainly focus on happiness, life satisfaction, and positive affect (Curry et al., 2018). While being kind stimulates serotonin production in the same way that many medical antidepressants do, it isn’t recommended as an alternative to antidepressants in those who are clinically depressed. Overall, kindness is not a standalone solution in combatting mental health problems but rather a helpful tool that can be used with clinical solutions.

Article compiled by Latus Health, Hull (UK). Latus Health offers a full spectrum of occupational health services. Its key mission is to improve health and well-being for companies and their employees, doing so in a disruptive and sustainable way. They recently launched the world’s first connected health platform. For more information, go to: Yodha - The World's first Connected Health Platform. Integrated healthcare and well-being support for every employee, providing the care you need, when you need it, wherever you need it.

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