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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Religion Might Keep Anxiety at Bay

For many, religious activity changes between childhood and adulthood, and a new study finds this could affect one’s mental health.

According to Temple University’s Joanna Maselko, women who had stopped being religiously active were more than three times more likely to have suffered generalized anxiety and alcohol abuse/dependence than women who reported always having been active.

“One’s lifetime pattern of religious service attendance can be related to psychiatric illness,” says Maselko, an assistant professor of public health and co-author of the study, which appears in the January issue of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

Conversely, men who stopped being religiously active were less likely to suffer major depression when compared to men who had always been religiously active.

Maselko offers one possible explanation for the gender differences in the relationship between religious activity and mental health.

“Women are simply more integrated into the social networks of their religious communities. When they stop attending religious services, they lose access to that network and all its potential benefits. Men may not be as integrated into the religious community in the first place and so may not suffer the negative consequences of leaving,” Maselko says.

The study expands on previous research in the field by analyzing the relationship between mental health — anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence or abuse — and spirituality using current and past levels, said Maselko, who conducted the research when she was at Harvard University.

In the study sample, comprising 718 adults, a majority of men and women changed their level of religious activity between childhood and adulthood, which was critical information for the researchers.

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