In “Can Religion or Spirituality Help Ward Off Depression?” (World of Psychology August 25, 2011), a somewhat skeptical John M. Grohol reports,
The new longitudinal research out of Columbia University wanted to followup on previous research demonstrating this correlation between spirituality or religiosity and a reduced risk for depression.
The researchers continued to followup on a set of subjects they had used in the previous study, following them from the 10-year mark (when the older research had ended) to the 20-year mark. The subjects in the study were 114 adult offspring of both depressed parents and parents who had no depression.
At the 20-year mark, had there been an episode of major depression? Only one quarter of the people who said religion or spirituality was important had experienced major depression. Time spent at religious services didn’t affect this outcome.
The really interesting find was that
Those at the highest risk for depression because they were the child of a depressed parent (that genetic and environmental connection that’s important for determining depression risk) had the biggest reduction in risk due to their spirituality or religious nature.
Grohol suggests more research.
These conclusions should be less surprising than they are to some, for several reasons. Religious Christians (all study participants were Christians) tend to live in tightly knit communities which, if healthy, play a strong role in fighting major depression by identifying the warning signs early. Thus many threatened episodes never happen.
Second, traditional Christians expect some level of unavoidable suffering as part of life, accepting it as a test of character (not of faith, because their faith told them to expect it). The same situation might look very different to the person who honestly believes that if things aren’t going well, there is something wrong with him.