Background: The aim of this study was to investigate (i) the direction of the relationships between dispositional compassion for others and depressive symptoms over a 15-year follow-up in adulthood and (ii) the longitudinal associations of dispositional compassion with total depressive symptoms and various depressive subsymptoms (i.e. negative attitude, performance difficulties, and somatic complaints) from early adulthood to middle age.
Methods: The participants (N = 1676) came from the prospective Young Finns Study. Dispositional compassion was assessed with the Temperament and Character Inventory and depressive symptoms with a modified version of the Beck Depression Inventory. The measurements were conducted between 1997-2012 including three measurement points. The data was analyzed using structural equation models and multilevel models for longitudinal design.
Results: The predictive relationships were more likely to proceed from high dispositional compassion for others to lower depressive symptoms than in the opposite direction. Additionally, high dispositional compassion predicted a lower total score of depressive symptoms and also lower scores of various depressive subsymptoms (negative attitude, performance difficulties, somatic complaints) in early adulthood. These associations, however, weakened over years and became non-significant in middle age. All the findings were sustained after controlling for age, gender, and socioeconomic factors in childhood and adulthood.
Limitations: Depressive symptoms were mostly mild and non-clinical in our sample. The findings cannot be directly generalized to severe depressive symptomatology.
Conclusions: When tailoring psychiatric interventions, it is necessary to be aware that compassion for others may lower the risk for the onset and maintenance of depressive symptoms, especially in early adulthood.
Keywords: Compassion; Depression; Longitudinal; Personality; Subclinical depression.
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