Being able to treat themselves with kindness might make a real difference for teens when it comes to mental health. That idea makes intuitive sense, and now a meta-analysis by researchers at University of Edinburgh suggests it has a substantial amount of scientific evidence to back it up.
The theory that self-compassion and mental health go hand-in-hand isn’t anything new. As I’ve written about before, adults low in self-compassion are at risk for depression, ruminate more on social situations, and find it harder to seek mental health treatment.
Given this running link between self-compassion and mental health, the researchers who did the meta-analysis decided it was time to take stock of studies looking at self-compassion and psychological distress in adolescents.
The studies they looked at defined self-compassion as a trait with three main ingredients: treating one’s self with kindness and sympathy, recognizing the shared aspects of experience that all humans have, and being able to reflect on one’s emotions with a degree of distance.
These all sound like potentially valuable skills to have. Indeed, the researchers found that across the studies, teenagers with higher self-compassion consistently experienced lower levels of psychological distress.
To measure general psychological distress, the researchers took into account measures of anxiety, stress and depression, three of the most common mental health challenges that teens face. It turned out that for all three types of psychological distress, the link to self-compassion was strong.
This study isn’t the final word on self-compassion in adolescents. The meta-analysis included 19 studies, meaning there’s room for more studies to be done. And the researchers identified some limitations in the studies that had been done, such as a failure to account for socioeconomic status as a possible confounding variable.
Still, the researchers concluded that, overall, the results appeared to be fairly robust. Based on what we know so far, then, self-compassion is a skill that has the potential to exert a noticeable influence on the trajectory of teenagers’ mental health.