Chai Brady and Colm Fitzpatrick
Regular church attendance leads to better mental health because religion gives people “hope, meaning and perspective”, according to one of the country’s leading psychiatrists.
Prof. Patricia Casey was reacting to a major new Irish study which looks at people aged 50 or older and finds that those who attend church monthly or more are less likely to suffer from depression than the general population.
The report was published last week by Trinity College Dublin and is from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA).
It found that two-thirds of this age group still attend church on a regular basis. Almost 45% attend every week, 10% attend once or twice a month and 10% attend more than once a week.
In addition, a big majority say that religion is ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ important to them. Just 15% of women and 25% of men say it is not important.
Commenting on the findings, Prof. Rose Anne Kenny of TILDA, said one reason why church attendance results in better mental health is because those who do so have better social networks.
She said: “The importance of continued social engagement and social participation as we age is well established and has been associated with improved health and wellbeing and lower mortality. If religious attendance facilitates older people to maintain a larger social circle with continued social engagement, alternative ways to socialise will be necessary as we develop into a more secular society.”
However, the study also found that there’s an added dimension to church attendance over and above social engagement that improves mental health.
Commenting on this phenomenon, Prof. Patricia Casey told The Irish Catholic: “This is a very important study and one of the first I am aware of from Ireland. It agrees with the finding of my own study from three months ago that those who regularly attend church have fewer mental health problems. It also partly refutes the idea that this is purely down to having a bigger social network.”
She added: “This study and ours show that there is something about religious practice over and above social networks. I think it is that church attendance gives hope, meaning and perspective to people. Multiple international studies say the same thing.”
The new study is called ‘Religious Attendance, Religious Importance, and the Pathways to Depressive Symptoms in Men and Women Aged 50 and Over Living in Ireland’.