There are very promising discoveries on the relationship between religiosity and depression. Religiosity, as defined, refers to one’s belief of a God, a sense of spirituality, and specific engagement in religious behaviors. Studies are showing that religiosity is a protective factor and significantly influence a person’s cognitive processes which help alleviate depression even at the neurological level.
One longitudinal prospective study analyzed the prevalence of depression in 114 offspring of depressed and non-depressed parents at 10 years and 20 years follow-up assessment. The researchers measured mood disorders among the participants, but in addition, also measured personal importance of religion and frequency of attendance at religious services.
They found out that the rate of depression in the high-risk group (at least one parent with depression) was twice as those with non-depressed parents. Across both groups, offspring who reported at the first assessment that religion was highly important to them had about one fourth of the risk of major depressive disorder at the second assessment 10 years later.
Interestingly, the group who benefited the most from religiosity was the group at high risk for depression, those who had a depressed parent. In this high group, those who reported that religion was important to them had about one-tenth the risk of experiencing a major depressive disorder ten years later compared to high risk participants who did not believe in the importance of religion.
The most significant effects for religiosity were for recurrence of depression than for onset. A meta-analysis of 147 studies, with total participants numbering to almost 100, 000 showed an inverse relationship between depression symptoms and religiosity.
How does religiosity affect depression? Does religiosity actually change our brain? As recent review of a large body of studies strongly suggests that spiritual practices may be associated with changes in the brain including serotonin levels. But what is more exciting is that religiosity actually change the cortical thinning that occurs in people who are depressed!
From these studies, researchers have found out that participants who valued religion had thicker cortices regardless of family risk, whether high or low. They also found that the effects were stronger and more extensive for the high risk than the low risk group.
Furthermore, these studies also show that religiosity can have significant effects at the microstructural and anatomical level in the brain. The researchers used high value equipment to study neural connections in the brain. They found out that those at high risk for depression because it runs in their families start to look similar to the brains of those at low risk as a function of their religiosity.
It appears that religiosity buffers the recurrence of depressive episodes particularly to high risk individuals. This resiliency seems to be the result of a thicker cortex and better blood flow to brain areas implicated in depression.
Hence, to our friends who have been depressed; our religiosity/spirituality matters a lot in our recovery and resiliency with depression. Let us not stop believing and practicing our religion, whatever it may be.
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