Religion mitigates feelings of depression by providing a sense of meaning, study suggests

It has often been said that surrendering to a higher power can bring happiness, and this is certainly a sentiment shared by many followers of faiths around the world. A new study published in Trends in Psychology has provided empirical evidence for this claim by examining the relationship between religiosity and depression symptoms among 279 respondents to an online survey (72% female).

The questionnaire included self-reported measures of intrinsic religiosity, meaning in life, and depression, anxiety and stress. The first measure, intrinsic religiosity, refers to one’s experience of connection with the sacred or transcendent, and has repeatedly demonstrated an influence on physical and mental health. Likewise, meaning in life has been shown to relate negatively to feelings of anxiety, depression and stress.

To date, however, no study has examined how religiosity, meaning in life, and negative affect are connected, which was the goal of the present researchers.

The study’s results demonstrated that intrinsic religiosity accounted for 13% of the variance in meaning in life among participants and (a statistically significant) 2% of the variance in depression. Controlling for intrinsic religiosity uncovered a mediating effect of meaning in life on depression, accounting for roughly 20% of the variance.

This confirms previous studies and provides empirical evidence for theories that relate religiosity to positive affect but lacked explanatory power. The authors note some important limitations, including the fact that only one dimension of religiosity (intrinsic) was studied and that the participants were primarily women.

Understanding behaviors and practices that reinforce positive affect and buffer against depressive symptoms is one of the primary practical applications of psychology. Indeed, the present study highlights the value of meaning in life—as a mediator of the relation between religiosity and positive affect, certainly, but this also points to its importance generally.

Future research that examines meaning in life as a mediator of other known relations with depression, anxiety and stress will be of equal value.

The study, “Meaning in Life as a Mediator of the Relationship Between Intrinsic Religiosity and Depression Symptoms“, was authored by João Campos, Juliana Bredemeier, and Clarissa Trentini.

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