According a recent study, regular engagement in religious activity can help young girls reduce the risk of developing depression. The study, led by Daniel Rasic, MD, of the Department of Psychiatry at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, was conducted to determine the effects of religious attendance on depression in young people. Rasic looked at 976 high school students while they were in 10th grade. He evaluated their symptoms of depression and frequency of religious worship attendance. Two years later, Rasic re-evaluated the teens to determine how regular religious attendance affected depression and how depression affected religious attendance.
Rasic found that for girls, religious attendance that occurred monthly or more had a significant protective effect on depressive symptoms. Specifically, girls who had no depressive symptoms at baseline and who attended church regularly were less likely to develop depression two years later when compared to non-church-going girls. This effect was most likely the result of self-efficacy, which was stronger in the attendees.
When Rasic examined the effect of church attendance on the boys, he found that those with depressed symptoms who regularly attended church saw a decrease in symptoms. However, many of the boys with elevated symptoms of depression at baseline had decreases in church attendance two years later and, subsequently, increases in depression.
This result can be viewed as bidirectional, according to Rasic. He believes that depression decreases the motivation for social interaction, and thus weakens the positive effect of regular church attendance. Likewise, decreasing church attendance removes the protective buffer of the social support the boys may need, and puts them at further risk for increased symptoms of depression.
Rasic notes that other factors, such as family support, peer support, and comorbid conditions may also influence these findings, but those factors were not fully examined in this study. Despite that, he believes that these findings could be valuable for young people, their family members, and mental health professionals. Children at risk for depression may benefit greatly from increased religious engagement. “However,” added Rasic, “Clinicians should also be aware that a decline in religious activity among youth may also be a sign of underlying depression.”
Rasic, Daniel, MD, et al. (2013). Longitudinal associations of importance of religion and frequency of service attendance with depression risk among adolescents in Nova Scotia. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 58.5 (2013): 291-9. ProQuest. Web.
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