Religious Jewish teens are far less likely to attempt suicide than their secular Jewish peers, according to a new study published in the journal European Psychiatry.
The findings back previous research that faith may offer some protection against suicide.
“Death by suicide is one of the most common causes of death in the adolescent population, and it is potentially preventable,” said study author Dr. Ben Amit from Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine.
“This has led us, like many other researchers, to try to better understand the reasons leading to adolescent suicide, to reduce its occurrence.”
Participants were asked to label themselves as either “secular,’ “observant,” or “ultra-Orthodox,” the three main categories of Judaism in Israel. Of the 620 teens studied, the most religious teens were 45 percent less likely to attempt suicide or exhibit suicidal behavior compared to the less religious teens.
The Israeli study supports findings of previous research, which focused on Christian adults and found that religion may protect against suicide, particularly among women. Furthermore, participants who demonstrate an extrinsic spirituality, such as regular church attendance, are less likely to consider suicide than those who practice a more ‘private’ spirituality.
“Recognizing the risk factors and mechanisms associated with self-harm and suicide is important in the prevention of adolescent suicide,” said Amit.
“As this is the first study demonstrating a protective effect for religiosity against suicide in Jewish adolescents, we believe it may provide valuable insight for both clinicians and policymakers dealing with Jewish adolescents, in Israel and worldwide.”
“Using statistical tools, we demonstrated that the protective effect of the practice of Judaism was not associated with a decreased risk of depression. Instead, it enhanced effective coping mechanisms,” said Amit.
“This stands in direct contrast to studies of religious Christian teenagers who reported feeling less depressed than their secular peers. According to our study, religious Jewish teens appear less likely than secular ones to be at risk of suicide even though they are still likely to be depressed.”
The researchers say the findings could be explained by Judaism’s spiritual and communal support, as well as its rules against suicide.
“We know from working with suicide survivors that even when they were 99 percent sure they were going to kill themselves, they still sought hope,” said study co-author Gal Shoval of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine.
“Jewish faith and community may be their most important source of hope.”
Source: Tel Aviv University