Medical study discovers a powerful anti-depressant: church

It’s something a lot of us have known for a while, but now there’s scientific proof of a connection:

People who go to religious services routinely are 56% more likely to view life positively and 27% less likely to have symptoms of depression, researchers from Yeshiva University reported in the Journal of Religion and Health. The authors added that those who attend services every week tend to be less cynical too.

The researchers based their study on the “Women’s Health Initiative” observational study involving 92,539 postmenopausal females. These older women came from a wide range of society including several income levels, ethnic backgrounds and religions. The researchers deliberately did not verify the women’s religions.

Lead researcher, Eliezer Schnall, said:

“We looked at a number of psychological factors; optimism, depression, cynical hostility, and a number of subcategories and subscales involving social support and social strain.

The link between religious activity and health is most evident in women, specifically older women.”

Schnall added that they concentrated on this group of people because females have longer lifespans than men, and seniors are a growing group.

The researchers mentioned several aspects of support which likely contribute to people’s attitude, such as being able to sit with a priest, minister or rabbi and talk about things (informational and emotional support), being taken to get to see a doctor by somebody (tangible support), as well as affectionate support and a positive interaction between parishioners.

The lead researcher, however, concludes with this caveat:

“The person who says, ‘I guess if I go to services, that will make me more optimistic’ – while a possibility, that may not be true. There is a correlation, but that does not mean there is causality. One could argue people who are more optimistic may be drawn to religious services.”

Read it all.

Comments

  1. “The person who says, ‘I guess if I go to services, that will make me more optimistic’ – while a possibility, that may not be true. There is a correlation, but that does not mean there is causality. One could argue people who are more optimistic may be drawn to religious services.”

    And there could be other reasons why the person’s reasoning would be wrong. It could be that attending services can make you more optimistic — but NOT if you attend services FOR THAT REASON. In other words, it could be that attending services has a positive effect on people who go for reasons other than getting a mood boost.

  2. Depression is a lot more complex than suggesting people get out of the house on Sunday and go to Church and they will feel better. I’ve known people who struggled mightily with depression and were barely able to function at a 9 to 5 job, let alone get out and do something extra.

    The challenge for pastoral ministers is how to reach out to people who are unable to come to Mass. Lots of clergy make a big deal, and rightly so, about visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes. But less so about visiting people who are simply stuck at home and who otherwise seem perfectly healthy.

    We churchgoers shouldn’t assume that our commitment to worship is exactly the same for all other people.

  3. Good point. I admit I’ve had a negative outlook most of my life and been depressed off and on as well. I assume it is related to the s..xual abuse I suffered when I was a teen and other factors in my past. I attend church regularly and yet still struggle with negativity and depression. I assume if I did not have God in my life I’d be a lot worse. I think the social interaction is part of the healing for people who suffer depression. All studies in mental health relate to the extreme importance of social networks and interactions.

    Unfortunately, I’ve seen many parishes over the years and I find the support network a bit lacking. There can be those who are “lording it over” in the group, or a lack of social events due to lack of funds, etc. One of the major lacks in parishes I see is lack of family support. There is a lot of Bible reading groups, prayer groups but those really cater to single (or the elderly.. and God bless them!) but the moms and dads of the parish appear only to have the option of taking their kids to religious ed or getting involved in religious ed. To be honest, I did this and was not happy at all. Why? Because I deal with my own children 24/7 and would like to have adult spiritual friends too, not just people who want to ask you to babysit their kids or have even more responsibility revolving around children. It would be nice to have more family support for the parents. Not sure how that would work but having Mass later in the morning would be a huge plus. In our area, they cater to the elderly who all voted to have Mass at 8:30am. Most of us have to drive quite a distance to the church, so that means getting the children up very, very early. Forget the fact that most large Catholic families get very little sleep (we have little ones that get up all the time and I’m not alone in this, I’ve talked to other parents). It would be nice to consider the parents when thinking about schedules.

    Okay, just some ideas.

  4. It’s an interesting study, but one fraught with pitfalls in trying to draw a cause-effect relationship between church attendance and depression. For one, it is known that the simple act of maintaining a social network and social engagement produces better outcomes, especially in aging adults. Church attendance is certainly one way to maintain and build such networks, but not the only means. Another possibility is that church attendance, at least frequent attendance is an activity which quite probably screens out depressed people by its nature. People in the throes of a real depression often tend not to go out to things where they have to engage people. It’s all they can do to get through the work week.

  5. Obviously, a study based on data from the Women’s Health Initiative, an observational study involving 92,539 postmenopausal females, cannot be generalized to the population at large.

  6. Jane Hartman says:

    The truth is that church is always helpful in all of our struggles. The Lord assures us that life will be full of trouble, but He came that we might have life more abundantly. I’ve struggled with considerable depression along the way. No drug or psychological theory cannot even come close to submitting one’s life to Christ and the church. I highly recommend it.

  7. My mother was clinically depressed and tried to commit suicide when I was ten. Her faith gave her strength in fighiting her way back. Clinical depression is a terrible illness of hopelessness and attending Mass and opening your heart to the Holy Spirit helps in the healing process.

  8. Sorry – I meant to say that depression is a terrible illness of perceived hopelessness – the perception of hopelessneses is not real but those who suffer with depression are too ill to see that their perception is not reality. I think the Holy Spirit helps open your heart and mind to God’s Love so that hope can take root again. There is help and there is recovery – to anyone who is suffering from depression – please do not believe there is no hope – there is a way out of the hole.

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