Religion & Depression: A Connection
Are religious people really protected from major depression? Do they posses a buffer against it? Some existing research suggests that this is the case, but new findings are beginning to suggest that perhaps their conclusions were incorrect. The research has shown that people who develop depression might be more apt to stop going to religious services. But, is it true that folks who regularly attend religious services have lower rates of depression than those who do not? A new study suggests some interesting conclusions.
Study #1: A long term study followed approximately 2,100 Americans from birth to middle-age. The women who had developed depression early in their lives (before age 18) had a higher attrition rate from religious services (They stopped going to church) when compared with their non-depressed counterparts who stayed at church. The research demonstrated that men showed no relationship between depression and their service attending habits. The study was based on a group of Rhode Islanders, and the results were submitted to the American Journal of Epidemiology. Through information obtained from interviews and questionnaires completed over the many years, researchers found that 27 percent of study participants suffered from major depression at some point in their lives and almost one-third of them developed symptoms before the age of 18. The research suggested that women were 42 percent more likely to cease their attendance of religious services by their early 20s if they experienced depression in their childhood. Most of the study participants, almost 90 percent, had attended services as children, and of the women who developed depression in childhood, a little more than half of them had stopped going to services by their early adulthood.
Study 2: Previous studies on the relationship between religion and depression have often researched people at only one point of their lives, which did not answer the chicken-and-egg question. Meanwhile, other research has studied people over time, but only starting in middle-age, and this is well after the ages when many people develop their first bout of depression. With the new study, researchers were able to look at that phase of the life course.
The subject of religiosity and mental health still has many unanswered questions and religiosity is a large concept. For example, by learning more information about religious people's coping skills can be very helpful in protecting all people against depression. Many religious people recognize that they can't always act based upon their emotional impulses, but instead they need to base it on objective truths and moral codes. By choosing to trust truths rather than feelings requires a lot of faith and religious people believe that this is a more realistic approach to life. Some people even feel that simply having faith can solve depression.
What Does This Mean?
Although the Bible describes the lives of people who may be depressed, it does not use the word “depression,” and it certainly doesn't mention antidepressant drugs. However, when trying to deal with depression, the generally accepted guidance is to work on the cause of the depression, not just the symptoms. Religion points to the issues of sin or inner conflict that can affect emotions, and most counselors would agree that depression can result from a variety of underlying issues. Therefore, it is important to check to see what other problems need attention. Depression is a complex area, and severe problems of depression deserve the attention of a mental health counselor and/or a religious advisor.
Some cases of depression may be caused by chemical imbalances, and if that is the cause, then antidepressant drugs may be a solution. Many religions believe that mankind is allowed to learn about various medical tools, and religion sometimes uses traditional medicines and herbal remedies to heal. However, there may be some cases of depression so severe that medications are necessary to bring the sufferer to the place where they can tackle some of their personal life challenges, if only at least for a brief period of time.
Nedications should be used with caution. Virtually any medicine has some side effects and drugs can mask the symptoms, which allows people to ignore root causes. Some sufferers may use antidepressants to avoid approaches that require them to deal with other unresolved issues, because it just seems easier to pop a pill. A general rule of thumb is to focus upon addressing the cause of the depression first, but it is possible that the depression could become so severe that the person endangers themselves or finds themselves unable to participate in other therapies.
Conclusion: More evidence is needed. The new study does not negate the hypothesis that the religious life can benefit mental health, but it does draw attention to the difficulty in establishing a clear causal relationship between participation in a religion and it's mental health benefits.
- Jeff Stein
Top News. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2014, from http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE81R1R320120228?irpc=932
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