This week the DLCC published an article by DLCC Fellow, Dr Connie Svob on the connections between compassion, spirituality, and psychopathology. The article reviews empirical research conducted by Svob and others, and advances evidence for the positive effects of compassion for mental health.
Dr Svob’s work builds on evidence that spirituality may be protective against various aspects of mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, addiction, and suicidality. Svob’s team support this claim with neurological evidence: individuals who placed great importance on spirituality appear to have biological differences in the brain when compared to people who do not place great value on personal spirituality. These differences included greater Alpha waves, and cortical thickening, both of which are associated with protection against depression. Members of the research team investigated further the dimensions of spirituality involved in protection against mental illness. They reported five stable components of spiritual experience across three cultures: love, altruism, unifying interconnectedness, contemplative practice, and religious and spiritual reflection and commitment. Two of these components, love and altruism, are closely related to compassion.
Whilst all five components of spirituality were associated with positive mental health, this association was strongest for love and altruism, the components most closely related to compassion. Remarkably, the association was even stronger for these factors than it was for contemplative practice, which in the form of mindfulness meditation has been closely linked with positive mental health in previous research.
Taken together, the findings suggest that compassion decreases one’s own suffering (psychological distress) and enhances happiness and overall well-being. Since compassion is widely supposed to involve entering wilfully into the suffering of another, this conclusion may appear somewhat paradoxical. Dr Svob suggests that further research is needed to investigate this paradox.
The article can be viewed here: <http://dlccoxford.org/compassion-spirituality-and-psychopathology/>