Sunday 25 August 2019

Going to church regularly decreases likelihood of depression in older people, new study finds

Stock photo: Picture posed by models.
Stock photo: Picture posed by models.

Allison Bray

Older people who regularly attend church are less likely to suffer from depression while having a wider social network, a new study on ageing has found.

The study, published in the journal Research on Aging, by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College, not only found that the majority of Irish adults aged 50 and over regularly attend religious services but are more likely to have better mental health than those who do not attend on a regular basis.

The study was based on observations over a six-year period involving 6,000 adults over the age of 50.

While researchers found that those with higher religious attendance had lower depressive symptoms, those who said that religion was very important to them but who did not attend very frequently, had worse mental health.

“Religious attendance was also related to having a bigger social network, which in turn had a positive effect on the mental health of the population,” the report found.

Researchers also found that religious attendance dropped slightly during the early part of the study from January 2010 to December 2016.

However the overwhelming majority of over-50s were still regular church-goers, representing 91pc of the female cohort, which dropped to 89pc and 89pc of males which dropped slightly to 87pc by the end of 2016.

Respondents overwhelmingly reported that religion was important to them,  with 86pc of women and 76pc of men stating that this was the case.

The study also found that both men and women who are regular church-goers had larger social networks than their peers who did not attend regularly.

TILDA researcher and lead author Joanna Orr said: “This new research shows that religious belief and practice in the over 50s in Ireland is complexly associated with mental wellbeing.”

“Considering the decline in religious participation, belief and practice in Ireland, it is important to assess how this may affect those who are religious. Maintenance of religious practice for those who are religious, as well as the maintenance and bolstering of social networks and social participation for all in this age group emerge as important.”

Principal Investigator of TILDA, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, added: “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.”

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