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Can Religion or Spirituality Help Ward Off Depression?

Can Religion or Spirituality Help Ward Off Depression?People of all shapes, sizes, colors and nationalities get depression. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to whom it strikes and when.

Many people swear by certain things to help them keep depression away. Some people use exercise, while others throw themselves more into their work. Others take a daily dose of a herb like St. John’s Wort or fish oil, because of the association these ingredients have had with a reduction in depression in some studies.

But what about religion? Can a strong sense of spirituality or religion help you ward off depression?

According to new research that followed a group of people over 10 years, the answer is a qualified “Yes.”

The new longitudinal research out of Columbia University wanted to followup on previous research demonstrating this correlation between spirituality or religiosity and a reduced risk for depression.

The researchers continued to followup on a set of subjects they had used in the previous study, following them from the 10-year mark (when the older research had ended) to the 20-year mark. The subjects in the study were 114 adult offspring of both depressed parents and parents who had no depression.

They then assessed each person’s diagnosis and religiosity/spirituality:

Diagnosis was assessed with the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia-Lifetime Version. Religiosity measures included personal importance of religion or spirituality, frequency of attendance at religious services, and denomination (all participants were Catholic or Protestant).

The diagnosis of major depression at 20 years, according to the researchers, was used as the outcome measure. The three religiosity variables at 10 years were used as predictors.

So what did they find after 10 years?

Those subjects who had reported at the start of the study that “religion or spirituality was highly important to them had about one-fourth the risk of experiencing major depression between years 10 and 20 compared with other participants.”

But here’s the real kicker — it wasn’t necessarily those Bible-thumping church goers who had this reduced risk. Neither the amount of attendance to religious services, nor the specific religious diagnosis, predicted the outcome.

Those at the highest risk for depression because they were the child of a depressed parent (that genetic and environmental connection that’s important for determining depression risk) had the biggest reduction in risk due to their spirituality or religious nature.

[I]in this group, those who reported a high importance of religion or spirituality had about one-tenth the risk of experiencing major depression between years 10 and 20 compared with those who did not. The protective effect was found primarily against recurrence rather than onset of depression.

So according to this followup longitudinal research, spirituality or religion appears to have a protective effect against primarily the recurrence of depression. In some, it may also protect against the onset of depression. This effect was strongest in those whose one or more parents also suffered from depression.

Because this was a followup study on the same participants who had already shown this same effect in earlier research, we still must be cautious about drawing overly broad conclusions. It may be that this group wasn’t diverse enough or representative of the population, or had a set of unique characteristics that make the generalizability of the findings still open to interpretation.

Read the full article: Religiosity and Major Depression in Adults at High Risk: A Ten-Year Prospective Study


Miller et al. (2011). Religiosity and Major Depression in Adults at High Risk: A Ten-Year Prospective Study. American Journal of Psychiatry. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2011.10121823

Can Religion or Spirituality Help Ward Off Depression?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Can Religion or Spirituality Help Ward Off Depression?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 25 Aug 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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