Positive thinking can help protect mental health in a pandemic, study shows

Positive thinking can help protect mental health in a pandemic, study shows

New research from mental health charity Aware shows that balancing negativity with positive thoughts is key to protecting mental health.

Everyone has experienced negative feelings during the pandemic, but new research from Aware shows that balancing negativity with positive thoughts is key to protecting mental health.

A study carried out by the mental health charity analysed the psychological impact of Covid-19 on the Irish population, and examined the common factors between people with and without symptoms of depression during lockdown.

More than 30,000 people benefitted from Aware’s services in 2021, and the charity expects continued high demand in 2022 while the pandemic continues.

A sample of 555 adults were asked open questions about how they felt during one of the longest periods of lockdown in the Republic of Ireland, between December 2020 and February 2021. Participants also completed the DASS-21 (Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale) to screen for symptoms of depression.

The study noticed common trends in the responses of those who were above the clinical cut-off for moderate depressive symptoms, and those who were below. The biggest difference was a lack of positively framed thoughts amongst those who did have moderate depressive symptoms.

“This pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to compare responses among those with high and low depression scores at a time of known threat to all members of the population,” said principal researcher/author of the report, Dr Keith Gaynor.

“Having negative thoughts during a pandemic is a pretty normal, natural reaction. However, when we looked to see what the core differences were between those who are depressed and those who are not depressed, you could see that people who are not depressed have had negative thoughts, but were able to balance them with positive thoughts,” he said.

Positive emotions

The research found that those who were not depressed expressed positive emotions, in particular empathy for people who were suffering, gratitude for the positive aspects of their own situations, and compassion for neighbours, friends and family in difficult situations.

The ultimate objective of the study was to identify appropriate psychological interventions to protect the mental health of the population during particularly stressful times.

Dr Gaynor commented on what needs to be done at public health level in order to protect the mental health of the population during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“We don't need to challenge negative thoughts, necessarily, but we do need to help people build positive responses of empathy, compassion and gratitude to help protect our mental health. Our research highlights the importance of developing a positive cognitive framework to the pandemic and indicates that approaches such as positive psychology or compassion-focused therapy which emphasise positive emotions, empathy, and gratitude may be particularly helpful,” he said.

Dr Gaynor has also written a free mental health workbook entitled 'Coping During Covid' which is available on aware.ie.

The research was funded by the RTÉ does Comic Relief Fund at the Community Foundation for Ireland.

  • If you are impacted by depression, bipolar disorder or other mood-related conditions, you can contact Aware’s free support line seven days a week from 10am to 10pm on 1800 80 48 48.

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