According to a new study conducted by S. Kasen of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, religion may be a protective factor for individuals at high risk for major depressive disorder (MDD). Having a parent with depression can put children at heightened risk for depression. The genetic factors, combined with the difficult family environment and negative life events (NLEs) that come from living with a mentally unhealthy parent, make these children especially vulnerable for many psychological problems. But does having a strong religious affiliation protect these children? To find the answer to this question, Kasen examined how religious attendance affected the development of depression in children with a depressed parent.
For the study, Kasen assessed individuals who had a parent with MDD and individuals who did not. They were evaluated during childhood and then again 10 and 20 years later. Kasen examined how the participants felt about religion, their frequency of religious attendance, and the NLEs they experienced. The study revealed that the participants who cited religion as important and attended a church regularly were less likely to develop depression. Specifically, the risk for mood disorder was decreased by 43% in those who had strong religious affiliation, and psychiatric disorder risk dropped by 53%. For the participants whose parents had MDD, their odds decreased by 76% for mood disorder and 69% for psychiatric problems in general.
Additionally, the offspring of depressed parents who thought religion was important were 74% less likely to have a mood disorder than those who did not put an emphasis on religion. Even the participants who had significant NLEs were less likely to develop depression later in life if they were active in their religion. Kasen believes the results of this study, which support other research demonstrating a positive link between religious beliefs and mental health, will shed more light on the importance of addressing the spiritual beliefs of those individuals who are most vulnerable. In sum, Kasen added, “Greater religiosity may contribute to development of resilience in certain high-risk individuals.”
Kasen, S., Wickramaratne, P., Gameroff, M. J., Weissman, M. M. (2012). Religiosity and Resilience in Persons at High Risk for Major Depression. Psychological Medicine, 42.3, 509-519. Print.
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