Can Religion and Spirituality Cause Depression?


While it was once thought religious and spiritual practices could benefit and prevent the effects of depression, newer studies are making a suggested linkage to just the opposite. In a study led by University of London Professor Michael King, a team of researchers asked the question whether or not religion and spirituality could be the cause of added depression after having discovered that particular faith mindsets appeared to be more susceptible to mental illnesses.

The research defined religion as practicing faith and attending particular settings such as temples, mosques, churches and synagogues, while spirituality was defined as not practicing a set religion, but holding particular faith based beliefs.  With nearly 8,000 participants followed for up to a year in countries ranging from Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Chile, researchers looked for those of religious faith and those of spiritual practices without a connection to a specified religion in rural and urban settings to see whether there was a strong linkage to their beliefs and their struggles with depression. Conducted out of several U.K. and European universities, the study was recently published in the journal of Psychological Medicine which found that the participants with the strongest sense of a religious mindset at the start of the study had a higher risk of experiencing depressive symptoms over the course of the study.

In the U.K., those of particular strong spiritual mindsets were three times more likely to experience the symptoms of depression compared to other groups. But no matter the participants looked to in various countries, none of those with a faith based background were protected from an onslaught of depressive symptoms. Those of varying religions showed a 11.5 percent sign of depression, while Catholics showed a 9.8 percent, Protestants a 10.9 percent and those without a specified religion a 10.8 percent.

Surprisingly so, nearly over a quarter of the participants shifted their view during the research. This was accompanied by the greater risk of experiencing depression, while those whom showed a lower risk shifted towards a more secular view path. While it is found in many that those experiencing hard times tend to lean towards a more spiritual outlook, researchers believe this explains the mental health and depression linkage found within this religion and spirituality connection. While the study only looked to particular areas of the world, past studies have also found that areas of the U.S. with the highest religious rates also had the highest rates of depression.

With states like Mississippi, Utah, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Alabama in the top 10 with its strongly held religious beliefs, they were also the top 9 states of those on anti-depressants. Utah residents (the second most religious state) in particular are twice as likely to be prescribed an anti-depressant than the overall American population.

Although a controversial study over whether or not religion and spirituality can cause depression, the researchers denounced the positive effect a faithful mindset may have on individuals after arguing that no protective evidence from a mental illness was found within their participants. Lead author Michael King in particular believes that those with a more spiritual based outlook tend to be more prone to experiencing depression and anxiety symptoms compared to their religious counterparts.

Written by Annie Elizabeth Martin

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