Does self-compassion or self-esteem mediate the relationship between attachment and symptoms of depression and anxiety in a clinical adolescent population?
Background: Self-compassion which may be shaped by early attachment experiences involves being kind to oneself at times of difficulty and is consistently linked to psychological well-being. Self-compassion may be particularly useful in adolescence during which, difficulties associated with physiological and psychosocial transitions can lead to psychological distress. Aims: The aims of this thesis were twofold. First: to review the literature exploring the relationship between self-compassion and psychological distress in adolescents. Second: a research study to investigate the emerging theory that self-compassion may offer a healthier self-relating construct than self-esteem. The study examined whether self-compassion or self-esteem mediated the relationship between attachment and depression and anxiety in adolescents attending child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). Method: A systematic search of articles related to the relationship between self-compassion and psychological distress in adolescents was conducted. The quality of included papers was assessed. In the research study, 53 adolescents (mean age 15.52 years; 75% female) attending CAMHS presenting with symptoms of anxiety and/or depression were asked to complete five self-report questionnaires measuring: self-compassion, self-esteem, quality of life, satisfaction with attachment relationship and current symptoms of depression and anxiety. Results: The systematic review revealed 25 studies for inclusion. Studies reported an inverse relationship between self-compassion and psychological distress in adolescents. Quality ratings illustrated variation in methodological quality of included studies. In the research study self-compassion and self-esteem were both negatively correlated with depression and anxiety. The mediating impact of self-compassion was only apparent in the relationship between attachment availability and depression, but not anxiety. Contrary to the hypothesis, self-esteem mediated the relationship between attachment security and depression and anxiety to a greater extent than self-compassion. Conclusions: Self-compassion may have clinical implications in improving psychological well-being among adolescents. Future studies with different measures of self-compassion; varying study designs and consideration of contextual factors would increase understanding of the relationship between self-compassion and psychological distress in adolescents.