Study suggests religious services attendees cut depression risk

(Photo: Reuters / Seth Wenig)Churchgoers sing praises during the third service of the morning at Christ Church in Montclair, New Jersey on Sept. 4, 2005. The church, which holds five services every Sunday to accommodate the interest of their more then 5000 members, is planning to build a larger facility in nearby Rockaway Township despite resistance from residents and the local government.

A recent study reveals that people who regularly attend religious services encounter less depression than those who do not.

Furthermore, the research published in April's Canadian Journal of Psychiatry suggests that it is not just having a network of support that lessens the risk of depression.

It is something else which cannot be explained.

Dr. Marilyn Baetz, one of the authors and the head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan, told Canada's National Post newspaper it is a mystery why people who attend religious services on a frequent basis are less depressed.

(University of Saskatchewan)Dr.Marilyn Baetz of the department of psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan and two other researchers suggest that those who attend religious services are less likely to suffer from depression.

"The feeling is that if you belong to a religious organization, what you are really getting is just social support, nothing else," she said. "But it would appear it is something over and above that."

The researchers found that those who regularly attended religious services were 22 percent less likely to be depressed than those who did not.

In addition to ruling out the availability of social support as the reason for their findings, the study also dismissed age, gender or income as factors.

"Some ingredient of the religious experience other than behaviors, networks, or attitudes alone probably contributes to the benefits," Baetz and co-authors Lloyd Balbuena and Rudy Bowen said in their report.

The authors drew their conclusions from data derived from the Canadian National Public Health Survey. This study followed over 12,000 people from 1994 to 2008.

Despite the lack of a causal explanation for their findings, the researchers suggested that religious attendance provided a "protective effect."

The study did not focus on the religious tradition of the participants, but statistics show that 80 percent would have been from Christian denominations.

Christian pastor and researcher Ed Stetzer said on his blog that the study supported earlier findings related to religion and depression.

"Study after study continue to remind us that people of faith tend to be more emotionally healthy than the community as a whole", he said.

Harold G. Koenig, M.D. reported in an article in Catholic Exchange magazine last year that his research over 25 years has shown that religious involvement is related to lower rates of depression or faster recovery from depression.

"Religion provides hope and meaning in the most difficult of life circumstances," he said.

In addition, University of Manitoba researchers reported in 2009 that those who attend religious services are less likely to commit suicide.

A report in the Journal of Epidemiology last year suggested a partial explanation for the earlier research which has reflected a connection between religious attendance and less risk of depression, Reuters news agency reported.

The researchers who wrote this report indicated that women who are depressed might stop attending religious services and are, therefore, not included in the groups studied.

The lead researcher of this study, Joanna Maselko of Duke University in North Carolina, said that her study doesn't mean that earlier reports are wrong.

However, she told Reuters that it may at least provide a partial explanation for earlier findings.

Jim Denison, a Christian author and founder of a non-sectarian forum, said in response to the University of Saskatchewan study that the findings do not mean that there is a guarantee that religious attendance will keep people from suicide.

He cited the recent suicide of Matthew Warren, son of popular pastor Rick Warren, as evidence of this.

"However, the study may indicate that a connection with God can help," he said.

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