Affiliations: University College London, United Kingdom
Journal reference: https://dx.doi.org/10.1176%2Fappi.ajp.2011.10121823
Summary: To prevent depression, research aims to identify protective factors. In this article, the authors explore the possibility of religion and spirituality being one of them.
Imagine that you are in a low mood, sad and have no interest in performing your daily activities and chatting around with your best people. It sucks, right?
This could happen once in your lifetime, but for a depressed individual this happens quite a lot. It is something that they cannot deal with by themselves and people around them do not understand what they are going through.
To prevent depression, research aims to look at factors that can possibly protect people from becoming depressed. One of which is religion or spirituality. Research shows that there is a relationship between religion and depression, in which religious individuals are less likely to become depressed. Specifically, it was shown that women who have different severities of depression and consider religion an important element in their lives are less likely to become depressed or even experience depression again. Additionally, those who face such mental health issues often refer to a religious figure for help.
The study that we present here aimed to look at whether religion can protect people from severe depression over a period of 10 years. And if so, does religion protect those who are less or more likely to develop depression equally?
Who took part in the study?
A total of 114 people, with either depressed or non-depressed parents, took part in a long study covering a period of 10 to 20 years of follow-up. These people had similar characteristics in terms of sex, age, education, financial status, their parental depressed state, and personal interest in religion. However, they differed in their severity of depression at the 10 year follow-up, as well as in their attendance to religious settings.
How was the information collected?
Information was collected from questionnaires and self-reports. First, depression was assessed using two questionnaires for children during the first 10 years of follow-up and for adults during the 10-to-20-year follow-up. As for religion, it was assessed using self-reports revolving around three different questions:
(1) personal importance of religion/spirituality ?
(2) how often do you attend religious/spiritual settings?
(3) how would you describe your religious/spiritual beliefs?
What did the study find?
The study showed that people who had religion/spirituality as highly important were less likely to experience depression during the 10-to-20-year period, compared to the others who referred to religion as being a less important element in their lives.
The effect of religion was mostly evident in the group of people whose parents were depressed and thus were more likely to become depressed in the long run. Within this group, those who had religion/spirituality as highly important were less likely to experience depression compared to the others.
Religion/spirituality was thus considered to protect people against experiencing depression again rather than developing it in the first place.
Limitations of the study
Although this study was scientifically strong, there still exist some limitations that affect the credibility of the results. This is shown through the self-reports used, the small number of people, the limited religions included, and the ethnicity of the people that was mostly Caucasian. Further similar studies are thus needed to generalize the results on different and wider populations.
Take home message
Building from that, religion/spirituality does in fact seem to have a higher protective effect on people with depressed parents and who are more likely to become depressed compared to other groups.
The study also reveals that personal importance of religion/spirituality may be a possible element to implement in treatment of depression where this consideration can be beneficial for some patients. Finally, religion/spirituality itself could be used as a preventative element from developing depression in the long run.