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‘Churchgoing may benefit health’

14 August 2015


GOING to church may protect older people against depression, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the Erasmus Medical Center, in Rotterdam, and the London School of Economics studied data from 9068 people aged 50 and above from ten European countries, collected over the course of four years.

They looked at whether individuals who changed the level of their participation in social activities then reported increased or decreased depression four years later. They found that those who increased their participation in religious organisations were most likely to report a decrease in symptoms of depression.

A link was not shown for any other form of social activity, including voluntary or charity work, or educational courses. Participation in political or community organisations was linked with an increase in such symptoms. This could be, the researchers suggest, because depressed people are less likely to participate in such organisations.

The reseachers suggest that participation in religious organisations may protect mental health, including "influencing lifestyle, enhancing social-support networks, and offering a mechanism for coping with stress". Although they acknowledge that "reverse causality" may be at work, they found that even those who did not initially have depression benefited.

The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.


Belief "helps cancer patients". Cancer patients who have religious or spiritual beliefs report better health than those who do not, a new study suggests.

Religion, Spirituality, and Physical Health in Cancer Patients: A meta-analysis was published in the August edition of the Americanjournal Cancer. The authors, from research institutions in Florida, Chicago, and Arkansas, analysed the findings of 101 previous studies exploring associations between religion/spirituality and the physical health of cancer patients, comprising a total of 44,000 patients aged 18 and above.

They found "statistically significant relationships between overall religion/spirituality and physical health". This was not limited to those patients from particular sociodemographic backgrounds or with particular prognoses.

This association was particularly strong in patients who "experienced greater emotional aspects of religion and spirituality, including a sense of meaning and purpose in life as well as a connection to a source larger than oneself", the lead author, Dr Heather Jim, of the Moffitt Cancer Center, in Florida, said.

The researchers did not find an association between self-reported physical health and behavioural forms of religion/spirituality, such as attendance at church, or prayer.

A sense of spiritual well-being was associated with less anxiety, depression, or distress. The authors noted that "spiritual distress or feelings of abandonment by God and/or one’s religious community are associated with increased depression and decreased adherence to medication and medical advice."

Patients who believed that they had undergone spiritual growth were more likely to report physical well-being. This could be because they benefit from "increased access to the emotional and behavioral self-regulatory resources" (for example engaging in healthier forms of behaviour, such as limiting alcohol), the authors suggest.

Those who felt spiritually well and had stronger beliefs were more likely to report an ability to "retain social roles and relationships".


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