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Religion as a Treatment for Depression

April 3, 2020
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

A person who is suffering from depression may feel like a light has gone out in their life. People with depression often lose interest in activities that once brought them pleasure, isolate themselves from friends and family, and consume excessive amounts of alcohol or drugs to help ease their pain. If they decide to see a therapist, they may be prescribed antidepressant medications that can be a useful tool in the short term but due to their side effects, they’re not meant to be used in the long run.

 

So many turn to alternative medicines to treat their depression. The problem is that many of these medicines do absolutely nothing and some may even be harmful. If antidepressants can only be used as a temporary treatment and alternative medicines aren’t a viable option, what is the best way to cure depression?

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Depression - Definition

Depression - Definition

If you’ve been feeling depressed lately, you might want to consider religion. A 2013 study found that individuals who believed in God who were undergoing psychiatric care had better treatment outcomes. A study monitored 159 patients at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. Participants were asked to rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, their belief in God. At the beginning and end of the study, participants’ levels of well-being, depression, and self-harm were assessed. The study concluded that patients who had either no belief or a slight belief in God were twice as likely to be less responsive to treatment than patients who had greater belief in a higher power.

 

Another study published in 2012 found that Protestant or Catholic subjects who “reported religion or spirituality as highly important” were 76% less likely to have a major depressive episode. 

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Depression: Alternative Medicine

Depression: Alternative Medicine

So why does religion have a seemingly protective effect against depression? One way is that it provides a support system. Most (if not all) religions hold community in high regard. Religious events are a great way to feel connected to your peers, and it’s hard to be depressed when you’re together with friends, family, and loved ones.

 

Another way is that religion gives you a belief in a higher power. Some religions such as Christianity teach you that everything happens for a reason, and it’s God’s will to make these things happen. If you believe in God, you may feel that your depression is just a “test” of his, and if you have faith, it will eventually turn into happiness.

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Morning Ritual

Morning Ritual

Finally, from a scientific perspective, it appears that spirituality and religion actually cause thickening of the brain cortex. A study done at Columbia University studied 130 subjects and found that those who valued spirituality had thicker portions of brain cortices. The thicker cortices were found in the same areas of the brain that are much thinner in people with depression.

 

From the substantial research done on the subject, we can see that religion may have a combative effect on mood and overall well-being and may be an effective solution for those suffering from depression.

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