Study Finds the Religious More Susceptible to Depression

Study Finds the Religious More Susceptible to Depression
Photo by Hamed Saber (Flickr)

A research team that followed more than 8,000 people in 7 countries for a year reveals that religious people have a greater incidence of depression than the non-religious. The researchers, led by Professor Michael King of the University College London and involving several universities across Europe and Chile, published their results in the October issue of Psychological Medicine. One of the conclusions of the study is that no evidence was found to support claims that religious and spiritual belief enhances psychological health, nor does religious faith help prevent depression.

The study, which involved residents of Britain, Slovenia, Chile, Spain, Portugal, Estonia and the Netherlands, found that over the course of the study, 10.3 percent of religious subjects became depressed, compared with 7.0 percent of atheists and 10.5 percent of those classified as spiritual. 11.5 percent of individuals following a variety of religions showed signs of depression; Roman Catholics showed a 9.8 percent incidence of depression while Protestants showed 10.9 percent, and those without a specified religion were at 10.8 percent.

Religion was defined as the practice of a faith and attending a place of worship. Spirituality was defined as no formal religion, but spiritual beliefs or experiences. Individuals with strongly-held religious and spiritual convictions were twice as likely to experience major depression. Although a religious, spiritual or secular outlook on life seems to be relatively stable in most people, slightly over a quarter of participants in this study changed their life view during the period of the study. Those individuals who were becoming more religious developed a higher risk of depression, in contrast with a lower risk for those adopting secular views and attitudes.

Similar studies have reported that the most religious of the United States also top the numbers for the highest use of antidepressants. In Utah, Louisiana and Arkansas, nearly 20 percent of the population is on some form of antidepressants, according to a 2006 study. In Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina and Oklahoma, 15 to 17 percent of the citizens are medicated with antidepressants, exceeding the national average. British psychiatrists Michael King and Paul Bebbington earlier published a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry that found spiritual people more likely to have used or to have been dependent on drugs, suffered from generalized anxiety disorder, phobias or any neurotic disorder, than those without any religious or spiritual belief.

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