Religious individuals have a significantly lower chance of committing suicide, according to the results of a recent study in Canada.
Individuals identifying themselves simply as "spiritual" but not religious, however, are not much less likely to commit suicide than anyone else.
Conducted using data drawn from the Canadian Community Health Survey on almost 37,000 Canadians across the country, the latest study by a team of psychiatric researchers based at the University of Manitoba was the first to use national data to look at the relationship between spirituality, religious worship and suicidal behavior in the general population and people with a history of a mental disorder.
"The main finding of this study is that religious worship attendance is associated with a decreased risk of suicide attempts," summarized Daniel Rasic, primary author of the study.
However, what was more interesting was the differences between people who call themselves "spiritual" and those who also regularly attend religious services.
According to the data, the former category did not show a decreased inclination to take their lives, suggesting something more was involved that was related to the actual attendance at a religious event occurring in a church, mosque, temple or other spiritual gathering.
Furthermore, among people with a history of mental illness – those at the highest risk of suicide –religious attendance appeared to be associated with a decrease in suicide attempts while simply being "spiritual" was not significant enough to reduce the effect.
Despite the findings, Rasic cautioned against tying the decrease in suicide attempts directly to religious worship.
"The causality of relationships cannot be inferred from this study," he noted.
"Further study into the relationship between active spiritual practice and suicidal behavior is needed," Rasic said.
For most studies dealing with spirituality and religiousness, spirituality is considered as referring to an inner belief system that a person relies on for strength and comfort whereas religiousness refers to institutional religious rituals, practices, and beliefs.
For the recent Canadian study, religiousness was based on a person's attendance at a religious worship service.
The research results have been published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.