Forgiveness, Depression, and Suicidal Behavior among A Diverse Sample of College Students

Depression and suicide affect both the elderly and the young with young college students having a particular risk of developing the major depressive disorder and subsequently suicide. Suicide accounts for most death amongst college students ranking second as about 1,100 college students die every year by suicide. However, the risk is lower in college students compared to peers who are not in college.

Common risk factors include substance and alcohol abuse, negative life events, interpersonal problems, family separation and poor problem-solving ability. It is worth mentioning that about half of all college students meet the criteria of one DSM-IV-TR psychiatric disorder, with about 11% and 17% having the mood disorder and positive depressive symptoms respectively. Forgiveness is considered a key factor in religion and spirituality, forgiveness is believed to prevent anger, depression and hopeless hence thought to be important in reducing suicidal risk.  This study was carried out to ascertain the relationship between forgiveness and suicide.

In this study, 158 college students with diverse ethnicity were drawn for the cross-sectional study. They were classified using BDI-II (Beck et al., 1996) checking presence and severity of affective, cognitive, somatic and motivational symptoms of depression.  Forgiveness was tested using Brief Multi-dimensional Measure of Religiousness and Spirituality (BMMRS), and suicidal thoughts and behavior were tested using Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire.

The result obtained showed that 66 (42%) reported severe depressive symptoms, the remainder had mild depressive symptoms. 78 (49%) reported suicidal attempts/ idea at least once in their lifetime and 59 (37%) reported suicidal idea in the last one year. 53 (34%) of students have previously told a friend suicidal intent, and 29 (18%) suggested possible suicide attempts in future. In an analysis of forgiveness and suicide, self-forgiveness had a significant relationship with fewer depressive symptoms than forgiveness from God. Self-forgiveness had an indirect effect on depressive symptoms hence it was found to be associated with lower levels of suicidal behavior. However, the weak relationship between forgiveness of others and suicidal behavior is strengthened when the effect of depression is accounted for.

It was found out that self-forgiveness is a way of solving interpersonal crises, coping with stressful life, aids individuals in progressing cognitively and emotionally beyond stressful events in their past involving humans hence easy reconciliation. This helps and individual to be at peace with his/her mind hence a reduction in possible depressive symptoms which can trigger suicidal ideas.

Forgiveness is associated with a reduction in stress levels with a much greater sense of perceived self-control that is often lacking in individuals at risk of suicide. Such self-forgiveness helps inter and intrapersonal functioning with reduced risk of depression and suicide.

Before this study, no previous data or study assessed the relationship between forgiveness, depressive symptoms, and suicidal behavior. However, this study showed forgiveness may be associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms as it aids in reducing interpersonal stress which often translates to increase the risk of suicidal ideation.  It is recommended that more studies should be carried out to assess the association of forgiveness to psychopathology.

You have just read a summary of the research paper: Hirsch, J. K., Webb, J. R., & Jeglic, E. L. (2011). Forgiveness, depression, and suicidal behavior among a diverse sample of college students. Journal of clinical psychology67(9), 896-906. Full-text available here.

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