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Study reveals another unexpected health benefit of attending church

Posted July 20

Weekly attendance at worship services was shown to reduce the risk of suicide in a new study. (Deseret Photo)

Church attendance may reduce the likelihood that people will harm themselves, according to a new study, published June 29 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Women who attended religious services at least once a week were five times less likely to commit suicide than women who never participated in worship, the study reported.

Data came from nearly 90,000 women health-care workers, ages 30 to 55, whose behaviors were tracked from 1996 through 2010. Thirty-six of the participants committed suicide during the 15-year study period.

"The women's church attendance was not the only factor (affecting suicide risk); which church they attended mattered as well. Protestant women who worshipped 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," the Los Angeles Times reported.

The research highlights one of many potential mental health benefits of involvement in a faith community, which scholars say include strong social bonds.

"Religious convictions and practices can help people foster a sense of hope, even in the midst of major crises or adversities," said Aaron Kheriaty, an associate professor of psychiatry, to the L.A. Times. "Religious faith can help people find a sense of meaning and purpose even in suffering."

Religious involvement also affects other aspects of health, such as length of life. Responses to the same survey of health-care workers were previously used to show that attendance at worship services reduced mortality risk, as the Deseret News reported in May.

Researchers and other mental-health experts haven't gone so far as to prescribe church attendance for depressed or anxious Americans, but coverage of the new study has highlighted rising suicide rates in the U.S. and the ongoing search for solutions.

"The age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States jumped 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, from 10.5 per 100,000 people to 13 per 100,000 people," The Washington Post reported in April.

Likely causes for the increase include the economic recession, drug addiction and social isolation, the article noted.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

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