Believers Better Protected From Depression Than Atheists, Study Says

Studies reveal that children of atheist parents are more likely to experience depression than Christians and people of faith are happier living in largely religious countries.

A 10-year study of 60 depressed and non-depressed mothers and 151 offspring revealed that children who were raised in their mother's religion were better protected against depression.

The offspring of Protestant or Catholic parents were 76 percent less likely than the offspring of non-religious parents to experience an episode of major depression, The American Journal of Psychiatry revealed.

Although religious attendance and denomination had no impact on the results, the subjects in question reported religion or spirituality as highly important to them.

The study goes on to suggest that religion or spiritual beliefs generally do make a real difference and protect subjects from developing depressive disorders.

"Individuals with no religious affiliation are at greater risk for depressive symptoms and disorders," according to the study. "People involved in their faith communities may be at reduced risk for depression, and private religious activities and beliefs are not strongly related to risk for depression."

The article, however, warns against jumping to conclusions based on studies such as these, and says the statistics should not be used by people to force interventions onto others. It suggests that the best use of such information would be for clinicians making psychiatric evaluation of patients, who can take these results into consideration when noting the patient's religious or spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof.

Another study, which examined almost 200,000 people from 11 European countries, also showed that religious people are generally happier than their non-religious counterparts. The results, however, hold true largely in places that have a large religious presence. In more secular societies, happiness levels amongst believers and non-believers were mostly the same.

The European study, which was conducted by Humboldt University in Berlin and was published Jan. 5 in the Journal of Psychological Science, focused on believers from various religions. In Turkey, for example, a predominantly Muslim country, believers were much happier than in Sweden, a society that is largely secular.

"The results suggest that religiosity, albeit a potent force, confers benefits by riding on cultural values," said study researcher Jochen Gebauer from Humboldt University.

The question that the study asked was if there really was intrinsic value of being religious that enriches believers. Reportedly, the psychological survey asked participants how "calm," "cheerful" and "content" they feel, among other measures of happiness, life satisfaction and self-esteem.

The implications that it arrived to suggest that religious individuals are indeed psychologically healthier and have higher self-esteem than non-believers. However, the research also notes that due to the declining religious beliefs in most European countries, these benefits will likely not be evident in the future.

Another article published in Psych Central, which describes itself as the Internet's largest and oldest independent mental health and psychology network, examined why exactly religion is important to mental health issues.

"Spirituality is an untapped resource for recovery from serious mental health issues. That's the most important reason. We know that spirituality and religion can play a role in health and wellness for everyone. But the public mental health system has been hesitant to venture into this realm," said Rev. Laura Mancuso, who is a director of the initiative on the relationship between spirituality and mental health at The Chaplaincy Institute for Arts and Interfaith Ministries.

She concludes that a lack of clear understanding leads practitioners to avoid the entire subject of spirituality and religion, and that a greater initiative is needed to provide clear information about how to venture into this territory.

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