Older people who regularly attend church are less likely to suffer from depression while having a wider social network, a study on ageing has found.
The study, by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College, not only found the majority of 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, published in the journal 'Research on Aging', was based on observations over a six-year period involving 6,000 adults over the age of 50. While researchers found those with higher religious attendance had lower depressive symptoms, those who said 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 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 religion was important to them (86pc of women and 76pc of men).
The study also found men and women who are regular church-goers had larger social networks than their peers who are not.
Researchers said because the study was observational, "it can be difficult to attribute causality. It is plausible that our measures of attendance and importance are not able to capture subtleties of religious feeling and participation.
"Religious attendance encompasses a number of factors such as religious social participation and community, worship, and commitment."
Researcher Joanna Orr said: "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."