Church Attendance Lowers Suicide Risk Among US Women, Study Finds

Clarity Campaign Labs, a liberal/progressive strategies firm, created this map of church attendance across the United States based on voter registration data. | Clarity Campaign Labs

American women who attend a church service once a week or more are five times less likely to commit suicide compared with those who never go to a religious gathering, according to a new study.

Attendance at religious services once per week or more was associated with an approximately five-fold lower rate of suicide compared with never attending religious services, found the study, which 89,708 women aged 30 to 55 years participated in from across the United States, published this week in JAMA Psychiatry.

Among the 89,708 women, 17,028 attended a religious service more than once per week, 36,488 attended once per week, 14,548 attended less than once per week, and 21,644 never attended. The study looked at associations between religious service attendance and suicide from 1996 through June 2010 using data from the Nurses' Health Study.

"There were 36 suicide events during follow-up, with suicide incidence declining with increasing religious service attendance," said the study, led by Tyler J. VanderWeele at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The Nurses' Health Study was conducted mostly among Catholic and Protestant women with repeated measurements of religious service attendance and detailed information on dietary, lifestyle, social, psychological and medical risk factors. It noted that suicide is among the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, and the fourth leading cause of death for persons aged 18 to 65 years, and the risk increases later in life.

The study found that Protestant women who attended church weekly were seven times more likely to commit suicide than were their Catholic counterparts. Among the 6,999 Catholic women who attended church more than once a week, no suicide was reported.

Overall, women who attended religious services frequently were less likely to use an antidepressant, the study found. They were also less likely to be current smokers and more likely to be married.

The authors noted that their study used observational data so, despite adjustment for possible confounding factors, it still could be subject to confounding by personality, impulsivity, feeling of hopelessness or other cognitive factors. The authors also noted that women in the study sample were mainly white Christians and female nurses, which can limit the study's generalizability.

In the conclusion, the authors wrote: "Our results do not imply that health care providers should prescribe attendance at religious services. However, for patients who are already religious, service attendance might be encouraged as a form of meaningful social participation. Religion and spirituality may be an underappreciated resource that psychiatrists and clinicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate."

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