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Religious Coping Plays a Role in Recovery From Depression


Philadelphia–Depressed seniors who believe their life is guided by a larger spiritual force have significantly fewer symptoms of depression than those who do not use religious coping strategies. Moreover, this relationship is independent of the amount of social support those individuals receive, according to results of a prospective study presented at the 2002 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

"This is a pretty remarkable study–and when you see these kind of data coming out from both medical and psychiatric populations, it’s hard to continue ignoring religion as a variable in the recovery from depression," said Harold G. Koenig, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and of medicine at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.

According to study author Hayden Bosworth, PhD, attempts in the literature to distinguish the effects of religion from the effects of social support on depression have led to mixed success (Husaini BA et al. Int J Aging Hum Dev 1999;48:63-72). Dr. Bosworth, associate director, health services research and development, Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and his colleagues attempted to address the issue by examining the effects of religious practices, coping mechanisms and social support on recovery among individuals diagnosed with major depression.

The research team assessed all patients (n=114; average age, 67.5 years) using the Montgomery Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) at baseline and at the end of six months. They also asked each patient about the extent of their religious practices and religious coping (Table).

The results indicated that higher patient-reported levels of religious practice correlated with significantly lower MADRS scores at baseline (P <0.02), after adjusting for covariates such as social support. However, the analysis of 90 patients at the six-month follow-up showed that religious practice did not significantly predict lower MADRS scores after adjusting for other factors (P <0.08).


The analysis also revealed higher levels of positive religious coping were related to lower MADRS scores at baseline (P=0.03). Moreover, positive religious coping significantly predicted lower MADRS scores at six months (P <0.03).

The investigators reported that higher levels of negative religious coping were associated with higher MADRS scores at baseline (P=0.02), although similar findings did not appear at six months.

"These results indicate that clinicians should encourage reconnection with religion as a way of coping in patients whose spirituality has been important to them," concluded Dr. Bosworth.

"Physicians need to pay attention to their patients’ religious beliefs and practices," added Dr. Koenig. "Rather than continuing to see it as a liability or unhealthy crutch, they should see it as a potential strength in overcoming depression."

–Daniel Ko

 Table. Questions Asked About Religious Practices and Positive and Negative Religious Coping

Religious Practices

Frequency and nature of:

  • attendance at religious services and other religious activities at places of worship
  • prayer outside of a church or synagogue
  • watching or listening to religious programming
  • reading the Bible or other religious or inspirational literature

Positive Religious Coping

Agreement with the following statements:

  • "I think about how my life is part of a larger spiritual force."
  • "God and I work together as partners."
  • "I look to God for strength, support and guidance."

Negative Religious Coping

Agreement with the following statements:

  • "I feel God is punishing me for my sins or lack of spirituality."
  • "I wonder whether God has abandoned me."
  • "I try to make sense of the situation and decide what to do without relying on God."

Permission from McMahanMed

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Related Books

Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure

Man's Search for Meaning

Will God Heal Me? : Faith In The Midst Of Suffering