Study shows moral practice can buffer known links between high stress levels and depression – ScienceDaily

A new study suggests that people with high levels of neuroticism and stress may be at greater risk for depressive symptoms, but these links may be buffered for people who observe the five tenets of Buddhism, a core ethical system for followers of the religion. Nahathai Wongpakaran of Chiang Mai University in Thailand and colleagues present these findings in the open access journal. PLOS ONE On 30 November 2022.

The five principles of Buddhism guide their followers not to kill, steal, sexually abuse, tell malicious lies, or use intoxicants. Previous research suggests that following the five principles can improve well-being and quality of life for the general public, including non-serious followers. However, it has been less clear whether the five principles can alleviate depression symptoms for those at higher risk.

To address this question, Wongpakaran and colleagues focused on the known links between neuroticism, stress, and depression. Previous research has shown that greater neuroticism is associated with a greater risk of depression, both directly and indirectly through perceived stress – how people think and feel after stressful life events.

Researchers conducted an online survey of 644 adults in Thailand from late 2019 to September 2022. The questionnaire included standardized questionnaires to measure each participant’s perceived levels of stress, neuroticism, and depressive symptoms, as well as their adherence to the five principles of Buddhism.

Statistical analysis of the survey results showed that a high degree of adherence to the five principles buffered the effect of perceived stress on depression. These results suggest that people with high levels of neuroticism and stress may be less likely to develop depressive symptoms if they follow the five principles closely.

The researchers note that while their study suggests potential benefits for five principles in the context of depression, it does not confirm a cause-and-effect relationship. The majority of the participants were women and people living alone, and their religious affiliation was unknown, although 93.3% of the participants reported being Buddhist. More research will be needed to determine whether these findings will extend to the general population of Thailand and beyond, as well as to non-Buddhists.

The authors add: “The five-rule practice makes other people feel safe, as all these behaviors are harmless and provide the potentially stressed practitioner with a buffer against depression.”

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