Is Religion a Treatment for Depression?

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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  • Kendall K

    March 13th, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    For me the answer is a resounding yes!
    Depression can be so debilitating, but when you know you have something as enormous as God to turn to, then everything else pales in comparison!
    I have personal experience with this very thing. I was goin g through a very crippling time in my life- lost my job, my home, my kids, and thought that I had nothing left.
    But I started reading and going to church, and in time I came to see that I had more than I could ever imagine.
    And realizing that gave me the strength that it takes to regain some of that that I had lost.

  • Connie G.

    January 30th, 2015 at 3:38 PM

    First positive sign. For many yrs I was over medicated lost everything family and 8 yrs ago I felt Jesus saying I want you to be well. I was told bipolar so many meds. I knew dr and family would not allow stopping so I did one at time slowly. I was also alone so no other conflict. I have been free 8 yrs I think I’m well I rely on God daily but as senior I do fight loneliness depression in winter. In spring summer I get out walk feel great I do wonder sometimes a dr got mad I quit. But I’ve seen so many stop functioning due to meds. I guess alone I don’t hurt anyone. I try volunteer some and work part time.

  • CG

    March 14th, 2012 at 10:29 AM

    Religion is not just the belief but brings along a host of other things like social meetings,a trusted power mentally and the belief that someone up there can and will help in times of need.Im not here to say whether that is true or not but having a belief that there is help available is always a good thing mentally.It just pushes you that much more and makes you feel better.

  • connor

    March 14th, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    Well, I would not say that it is a cure for depression, but it could give you other things to contemplate instead of the sadness in your life.

    It could be viewed as something that is up;ifting and that gives promise and hope. Alot of people who are really depressed need that kind of reassurance that there is something better out there.

    Would it be hard to find reliogion though while depressed? I think so. I think, and this is just my personal opinion, that for it to have any real impact it has to have been something that was important in your life before you became depressed.

  • Samour

    March 14th, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Is this just some ploy to turn agnostics and atheists into believers?

  • Ron

    March 15th, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    For me I could say yes, it could be a treatment, for others probably not so much

  • kiga

    December 16th, 2012 at 12:14 PM

    I am sure religion has a place in the treatment of depression. My wife fought major depression for quite some time with no much help from psychiatry healthcare providers but she improved a great deal through participating in church activities and trusting that there is God who is above all odds.

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