Regularly Attending Religious Services Lower Risk of “Deaths of Despair”

Sunday, August 23, 2020 - 09:55
Religious

A new research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have shown that people who attended religious services at least once a week were significantly less likely to die from “deaths of despair,” including deaths related to suicide, drug overdose and alcohol poisoning.

According to the university’s official website, the study showed that the association between service attendance and lower risk of deaths from despair was somewhat stronger for women than for men.

“Despair is something that can confront anyone dealing with severe difficulties or loss. While the term ‘deaths of despair’ was originally coined in the context of working class Americans struggling with unemployment, it is a phenomenon that is relevant more broadly, such as to the health care professionals in our study who may be struggling with excessive demands and burnout, or to anyone facing loss.

As such, we need to look for important community resources that can protect against it,” said Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard Chan School. VanderWeele is also director of the Human Flourishing Program and co-director of the Initiative on Health, Religion and Spirituality at Harvard University.

Based on the research, released online in JAMA Psychiatry on May 6, religion may be a social determinant of health, and previous research has shown that attending religious services may be associated with a lower risk of various factors related to despair, including heavy drinking, substance misuse and suicidality.

For this study, researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study II on 66,492 women as well as data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study on 43,141 men. After adjusting for numerous variables, the study showed that women who attended services at least once per week had a 68% lower risk of death from despair compared to those never attending services. Men who attended services at least once per week had a 33% lower risk of death from despair.

The study authors noted that religious participation may serve as an important antidote to despair and an asset for sustaining a sense of hope and meaning. They also wrote that religion may be associated with strengthened psychosocial resilience by fostering a sense of peace and positive outlook, and promoting social connectedness.

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