Lower Depression is Associated with Buddhism in Thailand
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“The lay life of Thai Buddhism focuses on living ethically in the worldly life. While it is okay to enjoy the conveniences and joys of the material world, one should live ethically and not cause suffering to others. Lay people should also still be mindful of the law of impermanence and that all things must come to an end. The key to true happiness comes from within, through personal practice, not through material enjoyment.” – Nicholas Liusuwan
Religion and spirituality have been promulgated as solutions to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. What evidence is there that these claims are in fact true? The transcendent claims are untestable with the scientific method. But the practical claims are amenable to scientific analysis. There have been a number of studies of the influence of religiosity and spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health. A growing body of studies, however, have suggested that Western religious practices may be contributing to depression. But there is very little research on Eastern religious practices, such as Buddhism and its effects on depression.
In today’s Research News article “Buddhism and Depressive Symptoms among Married Women in Urban Thailand.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7037506/), Xu and colleagues recruited a multistage cross sectional sample of urban Thai adults and had them complete a questionnaire measuring sociodemographic characteristics, depression, religious preference, and frequency of participation in religious practices.
They found that 91% of the respondents were identified as Buddhist. They also found that Buddhist participants reported significantly lower levels of depression than the non-Buddhist participants. In addition, they found that the greater the frequency of participation in Buddhist practices the lower the levels of depression.
It should be kept in mind that the present study was correlational and causation cannot be determined. Nevertheless, the results suggest that in and Eastern society, Thailand, the practice of Buddhism is associated with better mental health. Studies in Western cultures have generally found that being spiritual has greater positive benefits for mental health than being religious. The fact that the frequency of Buddhist practice was associated with lower depression suggests that spirituality might also here be the most impactful factor on mental health. Additionally, Buddhist practice frequently employs meditation, chanting, and other techniques that promote mindfulness. Since, mindfulness is associated with lower levels of depression, it is possible that the present findings of lower depression in Buddhist practitioners was due to these practices promoting mindfulness.
So, lower depression is associated with Buddhism in Thailand.
“In their long history of existence the Thais seem to have been predominantly Buddhists, at least ever since they came into contact with the tenets of Buddhism. All the Thai kings in the recorded history of present-day Thailand have been adherents of Buddhism. The country’s constitution specifies that the King of Thailand must be a Buddhist and the Upholder of Buddhism.” – Karuna Kusalasaya
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Xu, T., Xu, X., Sunil, T., & Sirisunyaluck, B. (2020). Buddhism and Depressive Symptoms among Married Women in Urban Thailand. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(3), 761. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17030761
A growing body of research has documented salutary associations between religious involvement and poor mental health outcomes, such as depressive symptoms and psychological distress. However, little scholarly attention has been given to the association between Buddhism, a non-Western religious faith, and depressive symptomatology in Thailand. Using random survey data collected from urban Thailand, this study examines the association between religious involvement and depressive symptoms among married women in Bangkok. Findings from multiple linear regression models reveal that (1) Buddhist respondents report significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms than their non-Buddhist counterparts, (2) the frequency of participation in religious activities is significantly and inversely associated with the level of depressive symptoms, and (3) the inverse association between religious participation and depressive symptoms is more salient for Buddhists who frequently practice their faith (i.e., significant interaction effect). Research limitations and directions for future research are discussed.