Going to Church Can Promote Mental Health
Praying in the company of the parishioners of your congregation could imply much more than it seems. New research has found that active religious participation can influence your mental health and well-being.
For decades, scientists have investigated the link between religion and health. Now, a large new study of more than 6,000 adults aged 50 and over living in Ireland has found that people who attend religious services regularly have fewer symptoms of depression than those who consider religion important but don’t practice it seriously.
Results were based on self-reported interviews on depression and attendance at religious services, with data collected on four occasions between 2009 and 2016 for The Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin.
One possible explanation for the benefit that religious practice appears to offer later in life, says study lead author Joanna Orr, a doctoral candidate at Trinity School of Medicine, is that religious practice alongside other people and the “increased social and emotional support that comes from our religious social networks” can combat the isolation of living alone for more information greatlifechurchsocal.com.
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Orr’s study, published in Research on Aging in July, found that social connectedness was one of the strongest predictors of mental health and well-being among the people she studied. Churchgoers who valued their religion but did not regularly attend services had poorer mental health.
There are also some potential psychological and non-social benefits of regularly attending religious services, including an increased ability to deal with stress, Orr says.
Dr. Harold G. Koenig, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke Center for Aging and Human Development, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina, agrees. As he puts it, “there aren’t many things that have the effect that religion does,” adding that research on religious involvement shows links to mental and physical health, including “cardiovascular and immune function.”
Koenig also believes that attending religious services regularly helps promote positive emotions and neutralizes negative ones, and that this may influence longevity, possibly by reducing stress .
Recent studies have confirmed this. In 2016, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine concluded that women who attended religious services more than once a week had a 33% lower risk of death than those who did not.
In a 2017 study published in PLOS One, lead author Marino Bruce, director of the faith and health research program at the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, concluded that attending religious services regularly led to a reduction in the body’s stress responses as measured by indicators such as cortisol levels , stress hormones, and changes in immune function.
His team also concluded that those who attended church more frequently (more than once a week) had a 55% reduction in mortality compared to those who did not attend church.
Christopher Ellison, dean’s distinguished professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said it’s possible that regular attendance at religious services may have other key benefits not measured in the study, such as a “life of stronger prayer” or “greater peace of mind about life after death. If so, these factors could be even more important for well-being than the social connectedness benefit offered by religious services, he notes.
While experts say much more research is needed, churchgoers often have their own ideas about the benefits of doing so.