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Worshipping healthcare workers in US less likely to die from ‘deaths of despair’

29 May 2020


Staff applaud outside Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois

Staff applaud outside Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois

HEALTH-SERVICE workers attending religious worship once a week are less likely to die what are known as the “deaths of despair”— suicide, drug overdose, or alcohol poisoning — a new study suggests.

The study by researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Medical Health looked at data from 100,000 health professionals in the United States.

It found that the link between attendance at religious services and a lower risk of death from despair was stronger for women than for men: women respondents had a 68-per-cent lower risk, and men had a 33-per-cent lower risk.

“Despair is something that can confront anyone dealing with severe difficulties or loss. While the term ‘deaths of despair’ was originally coined in the context of working-class Americans struggling with unemployment, it is a phenomenon that is relevant more broadly, such as to the health-care professionals in our study who may be struggling with excessive demands and burnout, or to anyone facing loss,” the Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard Chan, Tyler VanderWeele, said.

One of the paper’s authors, Dr Ying Chen, said that the findings were particularly striking during the current Covid-19 pandemic. “They are striking in part because clinicians are facing such extreme work demands and difficult conditions, and in part because many religious services have been suspended. We need to think what might be done to extend help for those at risk of despair.”

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

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