WASHINGTON — A study released by Temple University found that people who feel close to a higher power and pray often are more likely to be depressed, while people who attend religious services and feel that their lives have purpose are less likely to be depressed.
Lead researcher Joanna Maselko found that people who report being in a close relationship with a higher power are 1.5 times more likely to struggle with depression. She believes depressed people may use religion as a coping mechanism, and as a result, “they’re more closely relating to God and praying more.”
People who did not necessarily report being close to a higher power but did attend religious services regularly are 30 percent less likely to struggle with depression. Being involved in a faith-based community helps forge attachments to others, which prevents depression, the report said.
“People with high levels of existential well-being tend to have a good base, which makes them very centered emotionally,” Maselko said in a news release. “People who don’t have those things are at greater risk for depression, and those same people might also turn to religion to cope.”
The study suggests that people who have a hard time forming close relationships may turn to God for a “stable and secure attachment figure.”
“It’s hard to disentangle these elements when treating mental illness,” Maselko said. “You can’t just ask a patient if they go to church to gauge their spirituality or coping behaviors. There are other components to consider when treating patients, and it’s important information for doctors to have.”
Stephen Gilman and Stephen Buka from the Department of Public Health at Harvard University and Brown University Medical School helped author the report.