Monday, April 09, 2007

TO READ: Religion Shown to Help Depression for Many of Us
The data is overwhelming: Study after study shows that people who consider themselves religious or spiritual, especially those who attend weekly religious services, tend to be generally healthier and longer-lived than those who don't. And -- this rule of thumb holds true for depression in particular too. Interestingly, it's reported that 95% of Americans believe in God or a Universal Spirit. Along the same lines, a study of psychiatric inpatients found that 80% consider themselves religious or spiritual.

In terms of overall health, for example, one study which tracked more than 5,000 people from right here in Alameda County, CA, found that those who attended religious services at least weekly were 25 % less likely to die during the study than others. A huge 1999 study of 21,000 American adults found that by attending religious services more than once a week, people tended to extend their lifespan by up to seven years in general, and up to 14 years in African-Americans.

In terms of depression, the results are remarkable too. For example, in one study of 177 people (age 55-89) over one year, self-reported religiousity was correlated with less depression, and with recovery from depression in those who were initially depressed. Another study looked at depressed and medically ill men over age 60 for one year and found that, even after accounting for 27 other variables, religiousity was associated with both a greater likelihood of remission and a quicker remission from depression. In one review of 29 studies examining the relationship between depression and religious involvement, 24 found that religiously involved people had less depression and fewer depressive symptoms; five found no association.

Treatment of depressed religious people has been shown to be more effective in terms of post-treatment depression when religious content is added to standard cognitive-behavioral therapy and, in another study, when religious content is added to standard psychotherapy.

And what if you don't consider yourself a "religious" person? Good news: benefits of a spiritual but non-religious practice can still provide benefits that complement your medical treatment. Consider a regular yoga or meditation practice, for example. Also, giving to others through works and services can often provide a strong inner response. In addition, pay attention to your personal support network, and health habits such as drinking and smoking -- all of these have been shown to be improved by religious involvement, but don't rely on believing.

Remember -- spiritual beliefs should not be used to replace your medical care! Instead, appreciate how they can complement and augment one another in your efforts to feel better.

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