Religion/ Spirituality

Effect of religious attitudes on suicide risk

A sense of religious affiliation may help protect people from attempting suicide, according to researchers at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg during the American Psychiatric Association meeting in 2009.

First, the details.

  • The mental health and well-being portion of the 2002 Canadian Community Health Survey was conducted in 35,000 Canadian adults.
  • 63% reported spiritual values.
  • 56% attended religious services at least once a year.

And, the results.

  • Religious affiliation was associated with 47% lower risk of having attempted suicide over the prior 12 months.
  • Adjusting for patient characteristics and social support strengthened the protective effect of attending religious services.
  • Spirituality alone — without connection to organized religious services — did not appear protective after adjustment for demographics and social support.

The bottom line?
The authors see a connection between religious beliefs and the support that comes from friends and acquaintances in the religious community.

In my experience, meaningful support, encouragement, and confidence to meet health and social problems can be gained from a belief in the Lord, which is reinforced by friends with the same beliefs.

It flies in the face of those who argue that it’s possible to maintain a strong relationship with their Lord and enjoy the full benefits of religious belief in the absence of church attendance.

Possible? Yes.

More difficult? Yes, again.

Of course, even with this support, sadness and despair occur.

At the same meeting, researchers from the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta reported the prevalence of suicide ideation based on interviews with 9,882 adults.

In this study, thinking about suicide didn’t vary significantly based on the extent of a person’s spirituality (or religion), although (as in the Canadian study) the prevalence of a history of suicide attempts did.

John Dunn, the English poet and priest once said, “No man is an island.” Temptation to do something self-destructive is never far away. The will to resist comes from strength garnered within and outside of us.

5/30/09 13:30 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.