In new research spanning multiple countries, a team of scientists from Europe have uncovered a crucial link between self-respect and mental health. Their findings, published in Health Psychology Open, provide initial evidence that self-respect plays a pivotal role in how individuals experience and cope with depressive symptoms and thoughts of suicide.
The study builds upon previous research that has explored the connections between self-esteem, mental health, and cultural differences. While past studies have primarily focused on self-esteem as a broad concept, this new research delves deeper into the distinct dimension of self-respect. Self-esteem encompasses how people generally feel about themselves, but self-respect focuses on individuals’ beliefs in their own rights and worthiness.
The researchers were interested in understanding how self-respect influences mental health outcomes, particularly in culturally diverse settings. They sought to investigate whether self-respect could serve as a protective factor against depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation, and how these relationships might differ between Western and non-Western countries.
“Self-respect, defined as a person’s belief of possessing the same rights as others, has been suggested as a hitherto often neglected form of self-regard and has been shown as predictor of assertiveness in Western countries,” explained study author Daniela Renger, a university lecturer and research group leader at Kiel University.
“We were interested in finding out whether low self-respect is associated with mental health outcomes such as depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation (potentially via deficits in assertiveness) and whether this pattern can be found in Western and non-Western countries.”
To investigate the relationships between self-respect, depressive symptoms, assertiveness, and suicidal ideation across different countries, the researchers conducted a series of three separate studies.
Study 1 examined the relationship between self-respect and depressive symptoms in three European countries. Participants were recruited online from various platforms and email distribution lists in the respective countries. A total of 436 participants took part (148 in Germany, 177 in Norway, and 123 in Spain) after excluding some participants who did not meet the inclusion criteria.
The researchers found a significant relationship between self-respect and depressive symptoms in all three countries. Specifically, those who agreed with statements such as “In everyday life I always see myself as a person with equal rights” and “I am always aware that I have the same dignity as all other human beings” tended to have lower levels of depressive symptoms, even after controlling for age and gender.
To expand the investigation to non-European, non-Western countries and examine mediating relationships between self-respect, assertiveness, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation, the researchers recruited a large sample of participants (1,533 individuals from Iran, 119 from South Korea, and 163 from Indonesia) for Study 2.
Renger and her colleagues found that self-respect was negatively related to depressive symptoms and positively related to assertiveness across all three countries. Importantly, the study found that the relationships between self-respect, assertiveness, and depressive symptoms were consistent across the three countries, indicating the robustness of these associations. In South Korea and Indonesia, where data on suicidal ideation were collected, self-respect was negatively correlated with suicidal ideation, meaning that individuals with higher self-respect were less likely to report thoughts of suicide.
In Study 3, the researchers aimed to replicate the observed relationships in an English-speaking country (United Kingdom) among students. A sample of 172 individuals were recruited from the University of Glasgow. In line with the previous studies, the researchers found significant relationships between self-respect, assertiveness, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation.
In the final step of their study, Renger and her colleagues conducted meta-analyses to summarize and estimate the relationships they observed across all seven countries included in their research. These meta-analyses confirmed that higher self-respect was negatively related to depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation. These relationships were generally consistent but showed some variability among different individuals and cultures, indicating that while these associations exist, they may be influenced by various factors across different contexts.
The findings suggest that interventions and therapy could benefit from focusing on self-respect as a specific component of an individual’s self-evaluation. Addressing the link between perceptions of not having equal rights and entitlements with depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts could be a useful strategy. Additionally, fostering self-respect may lead to increased assertiveness, which can have positive effects on mental health.
“The more people believe in their basic equal rights compared with others (i.e., the higher their self-respect), the fewer depressive symptoms and the fewer suicidal thoughts they show,” Renger told PsyPost. “While assertiveness played a mediating role only in some countries, the main relationships between self-respect and depressive symptoms were confirmed across all investigated Western (e.g., Germany) and non-Western (e.g., Iran) countries. Self-respect as internalized equality should thus be in the focus of future mental health research.”
But the study, like all research, includes some caveats. The study relied on correlational data, which means that causal relationships cannot be definitively established. While the main paths of the model have been previously supported in longitudinal studies, further research is needed to explore the causal directions implied by the observed correlations.
“Past research has demonstrated that people high in self-respect assertively defend their own rights but do not hurt others’ rights, thus pointing to a balance between concern for own and others’ rights,” Renger said. “The present research suggests that such a balance might go hand in hand with mental health and therefore represents an advantage for both individuals and societies.”
The study, “Why the belief in one’s equal rights matters: Self-respect, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation in Western and non- Western countries“, was authored by Daniela Renger, Aischa Reinken, Sabrina Krys, Maria Gardani, and Sarah E. Martiny.