Is religious/ spiritual belief a risk factor for depression? Psychol Med. 2013 Oct.

11.12.2013

Research have suggested that spiritual and religious beliefs may have a protective effect on health. One meta analysis (Hackney &Sanders , 2003)  found a small positive correlation between religiosity and psychological status.  Smith et al 2003 (meta analysis) showed  religious/ spiritual belief  to have a small negative  correlation with depressive symptoms but the protective effect of belief was stronger on risk of major depression after significant life events. Not all studies have reported similar effects. A large Canadian community  study showed that people who placed greater importance on spiritual values had higher odds of most psychiatric disorders (Baetz et al. 2006). A recent Korean study also showed that strong spiritual values are associated with increased rates of current depressive disorder (Park et al. 2012). 

Most studies are cross-sectional in nature,there are only few prospective studies addressing this relationship, few  of the smaller prospective studies have reported a protective effect for spirituality/ religious beliefs.

B. Leurent, I. Nazareth, J. Bellón-Saameño, M.-I. Geerlings, H. Maaroos, S. Saldivia, I. Švab, F. Torres-González, M. Xavier and M. King used the data from seven countries (part of depression in primary care study) to examine the impact of a religious or spiritual life view on onset of major depression over 12 month  period.Patients were all recruited from general practices.Self-report version of the Royal Free Interview for Spiritual and Religious Beliefs was used to assess life view. Participants were asked to indicate whether their understanding of life was primarily religious, spiritual, or neither religious nor spiritual.All participants were re-evaluated for DSM-IV major depression after 6 and 12 months 

Results

A total of 10045 people took part in the study.75% of participants held a religious or spiritual understanding of life. Women were more likely  have a religious or spiritual view of life.  

Of participants reporting a religious understanding of life, 10.3 % experienced an episode of major depression over the subsequent 12 months, compared to 10.5 % of participants with a spiritual life view and 7.0% of the secular group.  Participants with a spiritual understanding of life had a greater risk of major depression at 6 or 12 months than participants with neither a spiritual nor a religious life view   when data was adjusted for all confounding factors (age, sex, education, employment, social support, past history of depression and country).  Higher strength of belief in those who reported a spiritual or religious life view was associated with a greater likelihood of DSM-IV major depression over the subsequent 12 months after adjustment for all factors.People in the UK who had a spiritual understanding of life were the most vulnerable to the onset of major depression. 

Strength of the study: large sample size, wider geographical coverage

Limitations:  Participation rates were low in some countries. Findings from general practice attendees cannot be assumed to be generalisable to whole population.Only the overall life view was elicited.Participants may have difficulty in choosing between religiosity and spirituality as the ideas might be interpreted in different ways.

These results are different from  some of the recent studies (Miller et al. 2012 Kasen et al. 2012). It reveals how complex such relationships are and that the assertion that religion and spirituality is good for mental well being is not supported by good evidence. 

Summary of the article:

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

Leurent B, Nazareth I, Bellón-Saameño J, Geerlings MI, Maaroos H, Saldivia S, Svab I, Torres-González F, Xavier M, King M.

Psychol Med. 2013 Oct;43(10):2109-20

One thought on “Is religious/ spiritual belief a risk factor for depression? Psychol Med. 2013 Oct.

  1. spirituality and religion are terms which do not have exactly same meaning in different cultures.Religion which makes you repent for all the sins will definitely create more depression than one in which promotes more peaceful coexistence with every thing in the universe

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