Monday, January 07, 2008

Religion and (gendered) anxiety

Do people get more anxious when they become less religious? A recent study has analyzed levels of anxiety among people who have changed their religious habits over their lifetime:

According to Temple University’s Joanna Maselko, Sc.D., women who had stopped being religiously active were more than three times more likely to have suffered generalized anxiety and alcohol abuse/dependence than women who reported always having been active.

“One’s lifetime pattern of religious service attendance can be related to psychiatric illness,” said Maselko, an assistant professor of public health and co-author of the study, which appears in the January issue of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

Not to sound too anxious here, but what about men?
Conversely, men who stopped being religiously active were less likely to suffer major depression when compared to men who had always been religiously active.
Phew...that was a close call. Anxiety getting back to normal levels.

Maselko offers one possible explanation for the gender differences in the relationship between religious activity and mental health.

“Women are simply more integrated into the social networks of their religious communities. When they stop attending religious services, they lose access to that network and all its potential benefits. Men may not be as integrated into the religious community in the first place and so may not suffer the negative consequences of leaving,” Maselko said.

They probably should be able to check this hypothesis by looking at other social indicators. Of course this will also depend on what kind of religion and what kind of community etc. It would also be good to see if the anxiety level also goes down for people becoming more religious later in life.

The study expands on previous research in the field by analyzing the relationship between mental health — anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence or abuse — and spirituality using current and past levels, said Maselko, who conducted the research when she was at Harvard University.

In the study sample, comprising 718 adults, a majority of men and women changed their level of religious activity between childhood and adulthood, which was critical information for the researchers.

“A person’s current level of spirituality is only part of the story. We can only get a better understanding of the relationship between health and spirituality by knowing a person’s lifetime religious history,” Maselko said.

Read the full story here.

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