Doctors believe people with high levels of neuroticism and stress may be at greater risk for depressive symptoms. But according to a specialized research study, people who observe the five precepts of Buddhism — a fundamental system of ethics for the religion’s followers — may escape their depressing fate.
Nahathai Wongpakaran of Chiang Mai University, Thailand, and his colleagues presented their findings recently after designing a study in which five basic precepts were observed (all of which cross over into Christianity, as well): no killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, or intoxicating one’s self.
To address the link between mental health and spirituality in the form of basic “rule following,” Wongpakaran and colleagues focused on known links between neuroticism, stress, and depression. More and more research is becoming available detailing the link between neuroticism, depression, and stressful situations.
From late 2019 through September 2022, the team conducted an online survey of 644 adults in Thailand. Their survey included standard questions intended to measure each participant’s levels of perceived stress, neuroticism, and depressive symptoms. Questions also aimed to measure participants’ observance of the five precepts of Buddhism.
Like the Ten Commandments, the 5 precepts of Buddhism are harmless and make people feel safe
The findings were clear: people predisposed to stress or neuroticism faced a smaller chance at developing clinical depression if they followed precepts of Buddhism (though the precepts share stark similarities with other monotheistic religions). In a sense, the findings simply prove that morality and spirituality in a classical sense can calm the mind and provide peace, despite the popular Western notion that organized religion is destructive or harmful.
Of course, there is no way to reliably prove that any causal relationship between spirituality and mental health. Also, many Thai citizens already practice Buddhism as a matter of upbringing, so it’s difficult to attribute and findings to adopting that specific religion, itself. More research is needed to determine whether the findings might extend to the general population of Thailand and beyond, as well as to non-Buddhists.
The authors add, “The five precepts practice makes other people feel safe, as all these behaviors are harmless, and it potentially provides the stressful practitioner with a buffer against depression.”