Church Attendance Lowers Suicide Rates in a Subgroup of Women

HealthDay News — Women who regularly attend religious services may have a lower risk of suicide than those who don’t, according to research published online June 29 in JAMA Psychiatry.

U.S. researchers reviewed data on 89 708 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study from 1996 to 2010. During that time, there were 36 suicides. Nineteen percent of women in the study attended religious services more than once a week, 41% attended once a week, 16% attended services less than once a week, and 24% never attended religious services.

The researchers found that women who attended religious services at least once a week had a 5 times lower risk of suicide than those who never attended services. However, the study could only show an association and not a cause-and-effect relationship. The study authors also noted that most of the women in the study were white, Christians, and nurses, so the findings may not apply to a wider population.

The findings “underscore the importance of obtaining a spiritual history as part of the overall psychiatric evaluation, which may identify patients who at one time were active in a faith community but have stopped for various reasons,” Harold Koenig, MD, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at Duke University in Durham, N.C., writes in an accompanying editorial. “Nevertheless, until others have replicated the findings reported here in studies with higher event rates (ie, greater than 36 suicides), it would be wise to proceed cautiously and sensitively.”

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VanderWeele TJ, Li S, Tsai AC, Kawachi I. Association between religious service attendance and lower suicide rates among US women. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.1243.