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Forgiveness Lowers Depression Risk

Update Date: Sep 01, 2015 09:46 PM EDT

Forgiveness can prevent depression, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Missouri College of Human Environmental Sciences observed how different facets of forgiveness influenced feelings of depression in aging adults.

The findings reveal that older women who forgave others were significantly less likely to report depressive symptoms. However, older men reported the highest levels of depression when they both forgave and felt unforgiven by others.

Researchers said the latest findings suggest that developing gender-appropriate interventions could help solve depression in older adults.

"It doesn't feel good when we perceive that others haven't forgiven us for something," study co-author Christine Proulx, an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, said in a news release. "When we think about forgiveness and characteristics of people who are forgiving -- altruistic, compassionate, empathetic -- these people forgive others and seem to compensate for the fact that others aren't forgiving them. It sounds like moral superiority, but it's not about being a better person. It's 'I know that this hurts because it's hurting me,' and those people are more likely to forgive others, which appears to help decrease levels of depression, particularly for women."

"As people get older, they become more forgiving," said lead author Ashley Ermer, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, according to a statement. "Our population also predominately was Christian, which may influence individuals' willingness to forgive and could function differently among individuals with different beliefs."

"Self-forgiveness didn't act as the protector against depression," Proulx concluded. "It's really about whether individuals can forgive other people and their willingness to forgive others."

The findings were published in the journal Aging & Mental Health.

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