Mindfulness, depression, and meaning in life: what’s the link?

In a recent article published in Scientific Reports, researchers investigated whether meaning in life (MIL) and psychological resilience (PR) showed a chain mediating effect in the association between mindfulness and depression.

Study: A chain mediation model reveals the association between mindfulness and depression of college students. Image Credit: mavo/Shutterstock.com


The World Health Organization (WHO) in January 2020 declared depression the world's second most common disease, affecting nearly 260 million people.

Depression is much more common in adolescents and university students, affecting their physical, cognitive, emotional, and social behavior. Given the enormous young population of China, a study found that the rate of depression and major depression among Chinese college students was 31% and 8%, respectively.

Thus, exploring the factors and mechanisms governing depression in college students is pragmatic and might help prevent its occurrence and improve mental health.

About the study

Mindfulness is a fundamental human ability or a characteristic of consciousness necessary for good health. Being self-aware helps cope with stress and prevent overreacting or feeling overwhelmed by what happens in the surroundings.

Multiple studies have suggested that students with more mindfulness perform better, have cognitive flexibility, are highly content in interpersonal relationships, and perceive lower pressure.

Thus, fostering mindfulness could help reduce psychological stress and depression. It could even relieve anger, impulsivity, and negative emotions and increase self-esteem.

Based on these observations, researchers in the present study hypothesized that mindfulness could have a profound predictive effect on depression among university students (H1).

They screened multiple universities in Jiangxi, China, and created a cohort of 1,100 students for the following assessments:

  1. Adolescent mindfulness level scale: This 10-item Likert scale with a five-point range indicated levels of mindfulness in proportion to student's scores.
  2. Meaning in life scale: Higher scores on this 10-item, seven-point Likert scale indicated higher MIL.
  3. Psychological resilience scale: Higher scores on this 14-item, seven-point Likert scale indicated better levels of PR.
  4. Self-rating depression scale: Higher scores on this 20-item, four-point Likert scale indicated higher depression.

It helped them build a chain mediation model to test H1, wherein MIL and PR were mediating variables, and mindfulness and depression were independent and dependent variables, respectively.

The other three hypotheses regarding college students were that MIL played a mediating role in the relationship between mindfulness and depression (H2), PR was a mediator between mindfulness and depression (H3), and MIL and PR played a chain mediating effect between mindfulness and depression (H4).

The researchers tested the feasibility of each hypothesis using stepwise multiple regression equations and did in-depth descriptive and partial correlation analyses.

Finally, they used the Bootstrap method to test whether MIL and PR were a chain mediator between mindfulness and depression among university students.

The team also performed the Harman single factor test (a commonly used method bias test) since they collected all data from subjects using self-rating scales. 


The study analysis indicated that mindfulness was positively correlated with PR and MIL but negatively with depression, with respective γ values of 0.09, 0.22, and − 0.36.

On the other hand, the correlation between depression and MIL and PR was significantly negative, with γ = − 0.46 and − 0.46, P < 0.001. Mediation analyses showed that H1 was true, and even the indirect effect of mindfulness on depression through MIL was significant (β = − 0.03).

The chain mediating effect of PR was the largest in the mindfulness and depression relationship, suggesting that mindfulness alleviated depression primarily by improving mental resilience, confirming H3.

Notably, PR, characterized by positive emotions, expand student's attention, cognition, and behavior.

The effect size of MIL on the mindfulness and depression relationship observed among college students was 0.09, proving H2 valid and confirming that a sense of meaning in life alleviates or inhibits depression. It also improved physical and psychological well-being.

The chain mediating effect of MIL and PR on mindfulness and depression was 0.03, taking up a relatively low proportion of the total mediation effect, which established the H4 of the study.


Overall, the study highlighted how high and low levels of mindfulness contribute to depression in young students.

It showed that mindfulness directly affected the depression level of college students and also indirectly affected their depression by improving their sense of MIL and PR.

Thus, improving the mindfulness of young students could increase their perception of the MIL, enhance PR, and alleviate their depression.

Journal reference:
  • Zhang, J., Hu, Z., Zheng, S. et al. (2023) A chain mediation model reveals the association between mindfulness and depression of college students. Sci Rep 13, 16830. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-43984-0. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-43984-0

Posted in: Medical Science News | Medical Research News | Medical Condition News | Healthcare News

Tags: Adolescents, Depression, Mental Health, Stress, students

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Written by

Neha Mathur

Neha is a digital marketing professional based in Gurugram, India. She has a Master’s degree from the University of Rajasthan with a specialization in Biotechnology in 2008. She has experience in pre-clinical research as part of her research project in The Department of Toxicology at the prestigious Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), Lucknow, India. She also holds a certification in C++ programming.