The subject hit the headlines in The Washington Post last August 14th issue : If you want happiness, get religion ! The newspaper was reporting the results of the SHARE Study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology by researchers at the London School of Economics and Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands.
Religious participation and depression in Europe Studies from United Kingdom and Europe during the past 5 years have reported mixed results concerning on the relationship between religious involvement and depression. The present study is one of the largest and longest prospective studies of religious participation and depressive symptoms from continental Europe. Researchers from the department of public health at Erasmus MC, University Medical Center in the Netherlands, report the results from a 4-year study of 9,068 persons aged 50 or older participating in the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Ten countries participated from Northern Europe (Sweden and Denmark), Southern Europe (Italy and Spain), and Western Europe (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands). Participants were asked if they engaged in:
(1) voluntary or charity work,
2) educational or training courses,
3) sports, social club, or other kinds of club activities,
4) participation in religious organizations,
(5) participation in political or community organizations
Response options ranged from ‘almost daily’ to ‘less often than monthly.
Depressive symptoms were assessed with the 12-item EURO-D that asked about the usually symptoms associated with depressive disorder. Analyses controlled for education, region, marital status, household size, employment status, financial status, self-rated health, long-term health problems, activities of daily living, and physician-diagnosed illnesses. Fixed-effects models were used to assess whether changes in social participation predicted changes in depressive symptoms during a 4-year follow-up from 2006/2007 to 2010/2011.
Results: Only participation in religious activities (which had a prevalence of only about 10%) predicted a decrease in depressive symptoms over time (B=-0.190, 95% CI= -0.365 to -0.016).
In fact, participation in political or community organizations predicted an increase in depressive symptoms (B=0.222, 95% CI=0.018 to 0.428).
Researchers concluded that “Participation in religious organizations may offer mental health benefits beyond those offered by other forms of social participation.”
Croezen S, Avendano M, Burdorf A, van Lenthe FJ (2015). Social participation and depression in old age: A fixed- effects analysis in 10 European countries. American Journal of Epidemiology 182 (2):168-176.