Regularly attending religious services linked to lower deaths of despair: Study
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 new research led by Harvard University.
“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.,” the study authors wrote.
The study was published online in JAMA Psychiatry and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health on May 6, 2020.
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. Among the women, there were 75 deaths from despair: 43 suicides, 20 deaths from poisoning, and 12 deaths from liver disease and cirrhosis. Among the men there were 306 deaths from despair: 197 suicides, 6 deaths from poisoning, and 103 deaths from liver diseases and cirrhosis.
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.