Religion is meant to uplift world-weary souls. In the past, this perception of religion as emotional protector extended beyond sacred texts and into consulting rooms. Select psychiatrists reported evidence that religious rigor helped insulate their patients from the dark emotions which often harm the most.
New research suggests this may not be the case. A study, led by Michael King at University College London, has shown those reporting robust religious belief display a higher rate of depression.
The study, published in the journal, ‘Psychological Medicine,’ covered all manner of cultural and social strata. The 8,000 respondents hailed from Chile, Portugal, the Netherlands, Estonia, the UK and others. They were both rich and poor, rural and urban. King made a point to also ensure the survey covered wide strata of religious beliefs.
On average, around 10 percent of the ‘spiritual’ (those regularly attending church, temple, etc.) suffered depression within 12 months of the initial survey. In the general population, depression occurs in roughly 5 percent.
Beyond the averages, depression among the religious varied between both regions and religions. The UK religious, for example, were three times more likely to suffer depression. Among religions, Catholics showed the lowest rate of depression at 9.8%, with the non-religious spiritual suffering at a higher 10.8%.
It should be stressed this study doesn’t endorse a strict causal relationship between religion and depression. Saying one leads to the other would require much more rigorous science. Rather, the study suggests there may be certain mental issues which draw one to a spiritual life, or the obverse, that some aspects of religion may have negative impact on some prone to mental disorders.
As religion is often thought as last bastion for those lacking companionship and fulfillment elsewhere, King’s study makes sense. The religious may lack self confidence and therefore be prone to depression. One of King’s previous studies showed a similar relationship between religion and prior drug use. At the very least, such findings linking depression and religion merit further study.