While forgiving others protects women from depression, men do not derive the same benefit from being compassionate, suggests new research.
The researchers found that older women who forgave others were less likely to report depressive symptoms regardless of whether they felt unforgiven by others.
Older men, however, reported the highest levels of depression when they both forgave others and felt unforgiven by others.
The researchers said their results may help counsellors of older adults develop gender-appropriate interventions since men and women process forgiveness differently.
Forgiving others “appears to help decrease levels of depression, particularly for women”, said study co-author Christine Proulx, associate professor at University of Missouri in Columbia, US.
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The researchers analysed data from the Religion, Aging, and Health Survey, a survey of more than 1,000 adults aged 67 and older.
Survey participants answered questions about their religion, health and psychological well-being.
The researchers found that men and women who feel unforgiven by others are somewhat protected against depression when they are able to forgive themselves.
Yet, the researchers said they were surprised to find that forgiving oneself did not more significantly reduce levels of depression.
“Self-forgiveness did not act as the protector against depression,” Proulx said.
“It is really about whether individuals can forgive other people and their willingness to forgive others,” Proulx said.
The researchers said they studied forgiveness among an older population because of the tendency among older individuals to reflect on their lives, especially their relationships and transgressions, both as wrongdoers and as those who had experienced wrongdoing.
The study appeared in the journal Ageing & Mental Health.