Most atheists have depression
studyReligion may protect against depression
The US physician Harold Koenig came up with the idea of researching the connections between religiosity and health 30 years ago. At that time he was still a nurse and kept making similar observations.
"Religion was very important to some of my patients. They used their religious beliefs to cope better with their illnesses. And so they did. At the time, I thought that what I experience in everyday clinical practice should be researched. Perhaps it works Religion also has a positive effect on health in general. "
Today, Harold Koenig of Duke University in Durham is one of the world's leading scientists when it comes to questions about religion, spirituality and health. He has already carried out dozens of studies himself and evaluated hundreds of works by other researchers on this topic. In most cases the results are quite clear.
"When I summarize the usual implications, it turns out that people who are religious have better mental health as well as better physical health. Now that is very general, but it seems to be true: Religious people tend to be healthier be."
Such positive relationships are particularly evident in mental illnesses, especially depression. According to Harold Koenig, there are already more than 180 serious studies on the connections between spirituality and depression. Two thirds of them show that religious people are less likely to be plagued by depressive moods. It does not matter which religion the study participants belonged to.
"In most cases, depression is related to difficult life circumstances. People are overwhelmed by a loss. And after a while they give up because it makes no difference to them, no matter what they do. This is where belief helps, in which it is negative Giving meaning to experiences in life. There are thoughts like: God allowed this to make me stronger. Something good can come of it because God has it in hand. Such beliefs lead to loss, stress and trauma a meaning. That helps stave off the depression that would otherwise result from it. "
According to these ideas, it is the power of positive thoughts that help religious people to develop depression less often. But: It could also be more. Another researcher from the USA recently caused a sensation with an extraordinary study. As a psychiatrist, Myrna Weissman from Columbia University in New York has been looking after a group of test subjects for years, some of whom - hereditary - have a particularly high risk of developing depression in their lives. But the long-term data show: For those high-risk patients who describe themselves as religious, the risk of developing depression within ten years is reduced by 90 percent. And that apparently even leaves traces in the brain. Myrna Weissman:
“As part of the study, we also examined the brains of the patients with imaging methods. It showed that subjects with a high risk of depression have a thinner cortex in some areas of the brain than others with a low risk. We then hypothesized that if patients had strong beliefs that would protect them, they must have a thicker cortex. And that is exactly what we found. "
When asked how belief can influence brain structures like this, Myrna Weissman says: She has no idea. However, she thinks this find is so exciting that she has already started a new, prospective study with around 100 test subjects.
"We want to repeat brain scans over the years. That way we can see whether people who change their religious attitudes also show changes in the brain structures. I would also like to investigate whether there are any changes in people who become more spiritual over time Changes occur in the brain. "
Harold Koenig is very impressed by Myrna Weissman's work.
"This is a very important study. For the first time it is shown that there are differences in the brain of people who care about religion compared to people who care less about religion. And this difference can even be measured in the brain."
This is a novelty in this branch of research. So far, studies on religion and depression have been based solely on surveys. The answers were therefore subjective. There was nothing that could be measured objectively. Harold Koenig believes that the new findings could help convince doctors to pay more attention to the religiosity of their patients in clinical treatments.
"If you have religious patients, and especially those who are struggling with difficult living conditions, then you should ask them about their beliefs and support it from a clinical point of view instead of ignoring it. It's about religion as a resource for the patient to see and use them for therapy. "
Harold Koenig himself is currently working on a first large randomized study in this direction. The aim is to measure the success of religiously based cognitive behavioral therapy in patients with depression. The first results could be available in one to two years.
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