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Religiosity Tied to Better Quality of Life For HIV Patients

HIV patients who self-identify as religious or spiritual, pray daily, attend religious services regularly and say they feel God’s presence, tend to have better emotional and physical well-being, according to a new study published online in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.

In contrast, “privately religious” HIV patients — potentially turning away from organized religion due to fears about being stigmatized or ostracized — had the lowest levels of quality of life and more mental health challenges.

“These findings are significant because they point to the untapped potential of encouraging patients living with HIV who are already religious to attend religious services regularly,” says Maureen E. Lyon, Ph.D., FABPP, a clinical health psychologist at Children’s National Hospital, and senior study author.

“Scientific evidence suggests that religions that present God as all-powerful, personal, responsive, loving, just and forgiving make a difference in health-related quality of life,” Lyon said. “By contrast, belief systems and religions that see God as punishing, angry, vengeful and distant and isolate members from their families and the larger community do not have health benefits or contribute to health-related quality of life. People who identify as spiritual also benefit from improved overall health-related quality of life.”

In general, patients living with HIV have reported that they wished their health care providers acknowledged their religious beliefs and spiritual struggles. Additional research is needed to gauge whether developing faith-based interventions or routine referrals to faith-based programs that welcome racial and sexual minorities improve satisfaction with treatment and health outcomes.”

More than 1 million people in the U.S. live with HIV, and in 2018, 37,832 people received an HIV diagnosis in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2017, the Washington, D.C. region was recorded as one of the nation’s highest rates of new cases of HIV: 46.3 diagnoses per 100,000 people, according to the CDC.

For the study, the researchers wanted to better understand the degree of religiousness and spirituality reported by people living with HIV and the interplay between religion and health-related quality of life. The research team recruited HIV patients in Washington, D.C., to participate in a clinical trial about family-centered advance care planning and enrolled 223 patient/family pairs in this study.

Of the participants, 56 percent were male; 86 percent were African-American; 75 percent Christian; and the mean age was 50.8 years.

The researchers identified three distinct classes of religious beliefs:

  • Class 1 (35 percent of the patients) had the highest level of religiousness/spirituality. These were more likely to attend religious services in person each week, to pray daily, to “feel God’s presence” and to self-identify as religious and spiritual. They tended to be older than 40.
  • Class 2 (47 percent of patients) applied to privately religious people who engaged in religious activities at home, like praying, and did not attend services regularly.
  • Class 3 (18 percent of patients) self-identified as spiritual but were not involved in organized religion. They had the lowest overall level of religiousness/spirituality.

Class 1 religiousness/spirituality was linked to increased quality of life, mental health and improved health status.

“Being committed to a welcoming religious group provides social support, a sense of identity and a way to cope with stress experienced by people living with HIV,” Lyon said.

“We encourage clinicians to capitalize on patients’ spiritual beliefs that improve health — such as prayer, meditation, reading spiritual texts and attending community events — by including them in holistic treatment programs in a non-judgmental way.”

In addition, the researchers encourage clinicians to appoint a member of the team who is responsible for handling religiousness/spirituality screening and providing referrals to welcoming hospital-based chaplaincy programs or community-based religious groups.

“This is particularly challenging for HIV-positive African-American men who have sex with men, as this group faces discrimination related to race and sexual orientation. Because HIV infection rates are increasing for this group, this additional outreach is all the more important,” she added.

Source: Children’s National Hospital


Religiosity Tied to Better Quality of Life For HIV Patients

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Religiosity Tied to Better Quality of Life For HIV Patients. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 2 Feb 2020 (Originally: 2 Feb 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 2 Feb 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.