The COVID-19 pandemic is having an unprecedented detrimental impact on mental health in people around the world. It is important therefore to explore factors that may buffer or accentuate the risk of mental health problems in this context. Given that compassion has numerous benefits for mental health, emotion regulation, and social relationships, this study examines the buffering effects of different flows of compassion (for self, for others, from others) against the impact of perceived threat of COVID-19 on depression, anxiety, and stress, and social safeness.
The study was conducted in a sample of 4057 adult participants from the general community population, collected across 21 countries from Europe, Middle East, North America, South America, Asia, and Oceania. Participants completed self-report measures of perceived threat of COVID-19, compassion (for self, for others, from others), depression, anxiety, stress, and social safeness.
Perceived threat of COVID-19 was associated with higher scores in depression, anxiety, and stress, and lower scores in social safeness. Self-compassion and compassion from others were associated with lower psychological distress and higher social safeness. Compassion for others was associated with lower depressive symptoms. Self-compassion moderated the relationship between perceived threat of COVID-19 on depression, anxiety, and stress, whereas compassion from others moderated the effects of fears of contracting COVID-19 on social safeness. These effects were consistent across all countries.
Our findings highlight the universal protective role of compassion, in particular self-compassion and compassion from others, in promoting resilience by buffering against the harmful effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and social safeness.