Religious believers more depressed than atheists: study

27

Even if people's faith in religion makes them feel good right down to their souls, they are still more likely than an atheist to get depressed, according to a new study. 
 

The study, published in the October issue of Psychological Medicine but online now, followed more than 8,000 people in rural and urban areas in seven countries for one year. During the research, they were each examined at six- and 12-month intervals. 

In those time frames, 10.3 per cent of religious participants became depressed, compared with 7.0 per cent for atheists and 10.5 per cent for those with a "spiritual understanding of life," the study found. 

The results also varied between country and religion. For example, spiritual participants from the U.K. were found to be more than three times more likely to be depressed than their secular counterparts. 

Written By: Jennifer Dunning
continue to source article at cbc.ca

27 COMMENTS

  1. In reply to a sentence in the article:

    The results also varied between country and religion. For example, spiritual participants from the U.K. were found to be more than three times more likely to be depressed than their secular counterparts.

    Um, if another article currently on the front page of this website is any indication, it’s obviously because they are also much more likely to be lonely these days, unless their religion of choice is Islam.

  2. There could be a bit of chicken-and-egg going on here, with depressed people more likely to seek the (relative) comfort of religion on the basis that they will clutch at any straw.

  3. How strenuous it must be to react to every hardship with prayer, and then to try to interpret every event afterward as some kind of answer to that prayer. So no matter what happens, God blesses you, or tests you, or punishes you, or makes you wait. You are locked into an infantile state of passivity.

    The very thought is mind-crippling.

  4. Well, If I thought there was a busybody god watching my every move and just waiting to catch me out even if it was just a flicker of a non-approved thought, I would be depressed too.

    Guilt, shame, constant judgement, if you dont live up to impossible standards..what a way to live.

    Those Christians who firmly believe that they are “SAVED” though, should be dancing with joy all the time but this is not the case.Some of these folks are the ones who are the most afraid of death.Peculiar, very peculiar.

  5. In reply to #2 by Stevehill:

    There could be a bit of chicken-and-egg going on here, with depressed people more likely to seek the (relative) comfort of religion on the basis that they will clutch at any straw.

    It’s hard to make much of the causal factors because other studies provide conflicting evidence, and it seems in some cases that there are confounding factors at work (for instance, one study linked low depression risk with the participants’ satisfaction with their close relationships). It certainly doesn’t look like religion itself is the main factor so much as things like social involvement and personal optimism, which makes it all the more interesting that now we have a study showing the opposite effect.

    Examples of other studies with different results than the OP’s can be found below, but otherwise just skip to the last two for a study that looks for other factors and for a review of the literature as a whole:

    Religious attendance, spirituality, and major depression in Canada: a 14-year follow-up study.

    Religiosity and major depression in adults at high risk: a ten-year prospective study.

    Longitudinal associations of importance of religion and frequency of service attendance with depression risk among adolescents in Nova Scotia.

    The association between spiritual and religious involvement and depressive symptoms in a Canadian population.

    Religious involvement and risk of major depression in a prospective nationwide study of African American adults.

    Religiosity and resilience in persons at high risk for major depression.

    Family religion and psychopathology in children of depressed mothers: ten-year follow-up.

    Protective associations of importance of religion and frequency of service attendance with depression risk, suicidal behaviours and substance use in adolescents in Nova Scotia, Canada.

    Religion, spirituality, and health in medically ill hospitalized older patients.

    Most interesting are the last two, and I’ll add quotations from them to indicate the most interesting stuff. The first one points out that it’s not so much spirituality itself as factors like social support and general optimism that matter, and spirituality simply works through those factors. The second one points out that, while there is a difference, it’s not a strong one, and the literature in general is not the tightest.

    The relationship between spirituality and depressive symptoms: testing psychosocial mechanisms.

    Although many studies suggest lower rates of depressive symptoms in those who report greater spirituality, few have investigated the mechanisms by which spirituality might relate to depressive symptoms… Spirituality was indirectly related to depressive symptoms. More specifically, spirituality was significantly associated with optimism and volunteering but not with social support, and optimism, volunteering and perceived social support were significantly associated with depressive symptoms. The link between spirituality and depressive symptoms is indirect. The relationship is mediated by optimism, volunteering, and social support. Findings present research and practice implications.

    Religion and depression: a review of the literature.

    We reviewed data from approximately 80 published and unpublished studies that examined the association of religious affiliation or involvement with depressive symptoms or depressive disorder… Although these associations tend to be consistent, they are modest and are substantially reduced in multivariate research. Longitudinal research is sparse, but suggests that some forms of religious involvement might exert a protective effect against the incidence and persistence of depressive symptoms or disorders. The existing research is sufficient to encourage further investigation of the associations of religion with depressive symptoms and disorder. Religion should be measured with higher methodological standards than those that have been accepted in survey research to date.

    The original study can be found here:

    Spiritual and religious beliefs as risk factors for the onset of major depression: an international cohort study

  6. Thank you 🙂

    In reply to #7 by Zeuglodon:
    >

    That link didn’t work when I copied and pasted it, so as a heads-up to anyone else: The _ either side of the b turned…

  7. There is also a study that shows religious people are happier, healthier and generally more attractive than non-religious.

    it hasn’t been published yet but I promise you it’s on it’s way….

  8. Not surprising….religious types keeping waiting for divine intervention which never comes…enough to depress anybody! Much more satisfying to realise that you are on your own and find a positive way to deal with it.

  9. Well, they have a depressing world-view. Just thinking about them makes me depressed.

  10. Of course this has no bearing on whether religion is in any way true….

    “The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.”
    — Bernard Shaw, Androcles and the Lion, Preface (1916)

  11. Being a free thinker is the only way of allowing a natural flow of thought processes – but religion will inhibit your thought processes ( if you have any) and turn them into a vicious circle of no escape and no answer.. Having said all that – Atheists still get depressed too – as it is also a biological hormonal balance in everyone, although maybe Atheists approach healing differently to a religious person….
    Atheists are depressed about real stuff and religious people are depressed about imaginary stuff….one is more curable then the other……

  12. This is what happens when you think god created the entire universe just so he could sit and watch you struggle with good and evil. It’s enough to depress anybody especially when you can’t live up to the ideals.

  13. Religion causes depression. Why? Depression is caused when reality does not meet up to expectations. Religion creates unrealistic expectations. What is even worse than unfulfilled expectations is believing that god decided you were undeserving or wicked.

  14. In reply to #13 by Light Wave:

    turn them into a vicious circle of no escape and no answer.

    In computer programming you can inadvertently create an endless loop. Perhaps religion should be looked as a biocomputer programming bugs. Another metaphor, already explored is a virus which implies malicious vandalism.

    In metaprogramming, if no possible external input can change the internal state, you are in trouble.

  15. In metaprogramming, if no possible external input can change the internal state, you are in trouble.

    Huh? I know what meta-data is and what a meta-model is but I’ve never heard of metaprogramming.

    Also, there is nothing wrong in general (perhaps its different in metaprogramming) with a program whose internal state can’t be changed by external data. Indeed there are plenty of programs that are designed to have no internal state. The formal term for them is functions although a lot of programmers don’t know the difference and use the term function and procedure interchangeably. But consider the square root function, it should be stateless and return the same result regardless of previous inputs.

  16. Do you know what continually happens to me? My students are dumbfounded that a guy with “no beliefs” is upbeat and energetic and smiling all the time. The ones who know me well ask “why are you so damn happy?” or “How can you be happy when…..?” or some version of one of these questions.

    My standard reply (and this is a very frequent occurrence) is that I am happy to choose to learn something every day and happy in what I have chosen to do for a living. I am happy with whom I have chosen for a wife. I got to make all these choices ON MY OWN with no pressure to please anyone but myself. In this regard, I am a rich man. Not monetarily (I can name hundreds of miserable millionaires), but rather I am rich with LIFE. And I always conclude with “And you could be too”.

  17. In reply to #2 by Stevehill:

    There could be a bit of chicken-and-egg going on here, with depressed people more likely to seek the (relative) comfort of religion on the basis that they will clutch at any straw.

    I’ll need to correct this in line with my experience working in a Mental Health Centre for a well known Charity.
    It isn’t that the sufferers seek religion, as the religion seeks the sufferers.
    Proselytisers will harass service users where they gather prior to centre opening, some will attempt to infiltrate the centre to promote their church and those that are converted will then be influenced to also promote the church within the group.
    As such the number of church goers amongst the mentally ill is vastly higher than amongst the general population.
    As such it is obvious there is a correlation between mental illness and church going, but not that religion causes the distress, nor that sufferers seek religion of their accord but that they are actively targeted for recruitment being seen as easier to influence.

  18. In reply to #20 by Mr Greene:

    Exactly, we atheists don’t waste our time trying to convince crazy people…

  19. It really does look like there’s some difference in brain structure of those capable of religious thought and those predisposed to depression. Thinking of my own acquaintances, I can see a couple of instances that confirm the correlation ( though not enough to make me accept the connection completely).

    A general observation of mine is that atheists are more confident. Perhaps it is this quality that protects us from much of the self doubt and agonising that goes on in the brain of a depressed person. I don’t now, but I think it’s really worthy of further study.

  20. In reply to #22 by Nitya:

    It really does look like there’s some difference in brain structure of those capable of religious thought and those predisposed to depression.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “brain structure”. If you define that generally enough it is trivially true, since depression has to do with the brain so a difference in a rate of depression has to correlate with one or more differences in the brain. But beyond that, is it a chemical imbalance? is it a genetic difference? Does it relate to specific physical brain centres or physical areas? Or is it primarily a social issue that has little to do with brain chemistry as a direct cause? Its not clear what you mean specifically and more importantly I don’t think we can draw any conclusions from the data here. There could be other factors for example that correlate with being more or less religious. Income, education, likelihood of a spouse, number of friends,… who knows? This is an interesting data point but that’s all it is IMO you can’t draw any conclusions based on this data alone.

  21. In reply to #23 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #22 by Nitya:

    It really does look like there’s some difference in brain structure of those capable of religious thought and those predisposed to depression.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “brain structure”. If you define that generally enough it is trivially true, since depression has t…

    Not at all sure what I meant. Just musing, really. This is a result of my observations of people. Some seem to believe things very easily and lack sceptism about all things. I see this manifestation in entire families and wonder what makes them different. As you suggest, it could be down to chemistry.

    I’ve also noticed that a person with such a disposition will happily transfer their “belief” from one thing to another once a particular subject of interest is shown to be ineffectual. Why is it so?

    A couple of friends of mine have suffered from severe bouts of depression. After reading the article I realised that both held very strong religious beliefs. As you’ve implied, I’ve jumped to a conclusion.

  22. In reply to #19 by crookedshoes:

    Do you know what continually happens to me? My students are dumbfounded that a guy with “no beliefs” is upbeat and energetic and smiling all the time. The ones who know me well ask “why are you so damn happy?” or “How can you be happy when…..?” or some version of one of these questions.

    My s…

    Well said crookedshoes.

  23. A straight up comparison between atheist and religious people on this subject is tricky. One could argue that atheist, in principle, are less spiritually and/or emotionally dependent, since they don’t need the delusion of “god” to cope with their everyday lives. As a result, they are also, in general, more capable of dealing with crisis without becoming depressed.

Leave a Reply