Study: Church attendance linked with reduced suicide risk, especially for Catholics

One group of women — practicing Catholics — appears to have bucked the national trend toward despair and self-harm

Regina Trovino and Daniela Haddad pray before the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

Against a grim backdrop of rising suicide rates among American women, new research has revealed a blinding shaft of light: One group of women — practicing Catholics — appears to have bucked the national trend toward despair and self-harm.

Compared with women who never participated in religious services, women who attended any religious service once a week or more were five times less likely to commit suicide between 1996 and 2010, says a study published Wednesday by JAMA Psychiatry.

It’s not clear how widely the findings can be applied to a diverse population of American women. In a study population made up of nurses and dominated by women who identified themselves as either Catholic or Protestant, the suicide rate observed was about half that for U.S. women as a whole. Of 89,708 participants aged 30 to 55, 36 committed suicide at some point over 15 years.

The women’s church attendance was not the only factor; which church they attended mattered as well. Protestant women who worshiped weekly at church were far less likely to take their own lives than were women who seldom or never attended services. But these same Protestant women were still seven times more likely to die by their own hand than were their devout Catholic sisters.

Among especially devout Catholic women — those in the pews more than once a week — suicides were a vanishing phenomenon. Among the 6,999 Catholic women who said they attended mass more than once a week, there was not a single suicide.

The suicide-prevention effect of religion was clearly not a simple matter of group identity: Self-identified Catholics who never attended mass committed suicide nearly as often as did women of any religion who were not active worshipers.

Full story at The LA Times.

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Comments

  1. As the article notes, this is a limited study, including only nurses. They are highly educated professionals who are likely not reluctant to seek psychiatric help when needed.
    I am curious. The study period ended in 2010. Why seven and one half years to accumulate and analyze the data? and publish the results?

  2. Your Fellow Catholic says:

    Not only is death by suicide higher among those without an active faith life, but if memory serves, there were some studies in the 1980s/1990s that was showing that specifically the use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation correlated with better mental health scores. Prayer, especially meditative forms like the Rosary were shown to correlate with better heart health. Maybe there are more modern studies that show the same things? If anyone has their finger on more up to date data, it would be great to share those links.

  3. A post hoc. I’d be wary of JAMA (also APA and AMA).

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