Spirituality protects against depression better than church attendance

October 23, 2008

Those who worship a higher power often do so in different ways. Whether they are active in their religious community, or prefer to simply pray or meditate, new research out of Temple University suggests that a person's religiousness – also called religiosity – can offer insight into their risk for depression.

Lead researcher Joanna Maselko, Sc.D., characterized the religiosity of 918 study participants in terms of three domains of religiosity: religious service attendance, which refers to being involved with a church; religious well-being, which refers to the quality of a person's relationship with a higher power; and existential well-being, which refers to a person's sense of meaning and their purpose in life.

In a study published on-line this month in Psychological Medicine, Maselko and fellow researchers compared each domain of religiosity to their risk of depression, and were surprised to find that the group with higher levels of religious well-being were 1.5 times more likely to have had depression than those with lower levels of religious well-being.

Maselko theorizes this is because people with depression tend to use religion as a coping mechanism. As a result, they're more closely relating to God and praying more.

Researchers also found that those who attended religious services were 30 percent less likely to have had depression in their lifetime, and those who had high levels of existential well-being were 70 percent less likely to have had depression than those who had low levels of existential well-being.

Maselko says involvement in the church provides the opportunity for community interaction, which could help forge attachments to others, an important factor in preventing depression. She added that those with higher levels of existential-well being have a strong sense of their place in the world.

"People with high levels of existential well-being tend to have a good base, which makes them very centered emotionally," said Maselko. "People who don't have those things are at greater risk for depression, and those same people might also turn to religion to cope."

Maselko admits that researchers have yet to determine which comes first: depression or being religious, but is currently investigating the time sequence of this over people's lives to figure out the answer.

"For doctors, psychiatrists and counselors, it's hard to disentangle these elements when treating mental illness," she said. "You can't just ask a patient if they go to church to gauge their spirituality or coping behaviors. There are other components to consider when treating patients, and its important information for doctors to have."

Source: Temple University

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thales
4.5 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2008
I think this represents the greatest weakness of atheism/agnosticism. I say this as an atheist: we need to find a way to satisfy our evolved need for ritual or spiritualism without compromising our intellectual honesty. I suppose the real problem is understanding the cause of that need.
Roj
not rated yet Oct 24, 2008
The placebo effect of spirituality --improving some pathology and psychology-- may be a smaller benefit than close community ties with (church) subcultures. Some church groups collectively deal with individual misfortunes, assume surrogate roles for orphaned members, and offer a diverse reproductive opportunity limited only by the size of the community.

For example, in the US, the Mormon church organizes its labor, matching member business owners with member labor. Regardless of irreconcilable conflict with most theologies, a reproductive advantage of this labor organized "church group" shows several more children per Mormon family vs the average US & European populations.
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2008
I say this as an atheist: we need to find a way to satisfy our evolved need for ritual or spiritualism without compromising our intellectual honesty. I suppose the real problem is understanding the cause of that need.

That's true - IF you experience this need for ritual or spiritualism. If not, there still is, IMHO, another, deeper need for all of us, believer, atheist, or agnostic: the need to make sense of our tiny place in this vast world. And here we see the greatest advantage for atheists and agnostics: there is no "external" promise and, therefore, no disappointment.
Mauricio
1 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2008
Many people comment about the disgrace that has been for society the separation between God and science. I find hilarious how atheists imply that they are intelligent and "intellectually honest"... they even called themselves the BRIGHT ones. So I am a DIM one :)

I was raised religious, then I became atheist in college when a professor said "God is for children", I was very shocked by that. With time I read more and I learned what Erwin Schrodringer said ""The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you."". From what I can see, most people just have the initial gulp and then put the glass down and then start to self-praise and spread blasphemy. I even heard a biology professor of the MIT screaming at a robotic and artificial intelligence conference "we can do better than nature". I still laugh when I remember that. Ironically, when I was visiting the MIT for a seminar on complex systems and networks, I had my epiphany...

A final thought, Marylin Manson commented that people (atheists?) want to know where is God so they can go and kill him. I feel he is right.
aphemix
not rated yet Oct 25, 2008
With time I read more and I learned what Erwin Schrodringer said ""The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you."".

the god at the bottom of this glass is not specific to any religion.
BobSage
1 / 5 (2) Oct 27, 2008
Scientists assume that the well-being associated with belief in God is a placebo effect. What if, duh, there actually IS a God who answers prayers?

There is a simple experiment any scientist can do right now. Pray for something. See what happens. Do this for a year or so.

Keep a record of the results of your experiment. At the end of the trial, see if you are still an atheist.
thales
not rated yet Oct 27, 2008
Scientists assume that the well-being associated with belief in God is a placebo effect. What if, duh, there actually IS a God who answers prayers?


The study in this article did not test the efficacy of prayer. Are you assuming that the greater well-being in religious folk is due to their praying for it?
thales
not rated yet Oct 27, 2008
I find hilarious how atheists imply that they are intelligent and "intellectually honest"...
I was raised religious, then I became atheist in college when a professor said "God is for children", I was very shocked by that.


Sounds like you came back to God. I am curious - how did you deal with Hebrews 10:26?

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