Suffering from depression? You might want to break out your Quran, your Torah, your Bible or whatever it is that gets you feeling spiritual, not because there's a God out there who can fix your problems, but because of a new study by the Harvard Medical School that shows people with a stronger belief in God have an easier time treating depression than we heathens do.
Researchers at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Belmont, Mass., gathered 159 patients suffering from prominent symptoms of depression in a common room and asked each individual to rank the strength of their belief in God on a scale of 1 to 5. They were then asked how much they trusted their treatment methods and how effective they thought they would work over time. 71% of the patients said that they held at least a slight belief in some sort of higher power.
Upon their release, the group's symptoms were reevaluated and it was found that the higher the subject's belief in God, the more effective their treatment was. (Religious affiliation made no difference, FYI.) Effectiveness of the treatment was based in "greater improvements in psychological well-being" and reductions in depression and self-harm.
Researchers speculate that the reasoning behind this is dual pronged. Faith is often associated with an increased sense of hope and optimism, which allows patients to feel more confident in the possibility that they could get better. Additionally, religious people might be more accustomed to relying on and trusting in outside sources (in this case, psychiatric professionals) for help.
From a layman's perspective, the McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School findings are reasonable. For the most part, religious and spiritual people have more built-in communities than non religious people. If you grew up confessing to a priest or seeking solace from a pastor or rabbi, you are probably going to have an easier time opening up and accepting help from a professional counselor. Furthermore, it's easier to get through something terrible when you believe that there's some sort of grand and divine plan in the works. There's comfort in the faith that it will be over once it's time for it to be over.
Of course, then there's those of us who don't have that faith — who are never quite sure whether or not this is weight that we'll carry for the rest of our finite lives. It's much more difficult to say "chin up" or "it'll get better" when you don't have religious faith as a coping mechanism and it's harder still when we live in a world that values self-reliance above almost all else. Of course, being a non-believer has it's value as well, but it's certainly a more challenging route to take. (This is why Christopher Hitchens drank so much.)
A test of faith in God and treatment: The relationship of belief in God to psychiatric treatment outcomes [The Journal of Affective Disorders]
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