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LINK Religious Service Attendance and Deaths Related to Drugs, Alcohol, and Suicide Among US Health Care Professionals | Health Care Workforce | JAMA Psychiatry | JAMA Network

Is frequent religious service attendance associated with a lower risk of deaths related to drugs, alcohol, and suicide (referred to as deaths from despair) among US health care professionals?

In this cohort study of 66 492 female registered nurses and 43 141 male health care professionals in the US, attendance at religious services at least once per week was associated with a 68% lower hazard of death from despair among women and a 33% lower hazard among men compared with never attendance.

The findings suggest that frequent attendance at religious services is associated with lower subsequent risk of deaths from despair.

A follow-up would be really interesting:

  1. Can secular meetings provide the same benefit? Which ones?
  2. How will these numbers change due to covid and failure to attend regular services?
  3. Can virtual services provide the same decrease in death from despair as regular services?
  4. If you believe these results, would allowing health care professionals access to regular services be warranted?
TheMiddleWay 8 May 7

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People who are spiritually oriented have strong personal resources for living without fear and depression. Church services do not cause them to be happier—they are happy already because of appreciation and reverence for life.


It would have been better to quantify total social connection, not just the religious part. Certainly isolation is a risk factor, and religious groups can provide a strong support network.


Interesting study. However, one can't draw definitive conclusions from just one study. For instance...

If this study were replicated amongst all types of professions, would it show the same results?

Why the difference in the results between women and men? Fewer numbers of men participated in this study, but number of despair deaths were 4 times higher than women. So why such a big difference between the genders? Religious attendance lowered incidences of death by despair in female nurses, but not so much with the male healthcare workers. Why?

What was the number of deaths by suicide vs. number of deaths by unintentional poisoning? Can we definitively say that death by unintentional poisoning was a factor of despair, or just a desire for that high feeling that went too far? What drugs were being used? Was genetic predisposition to addition factored in?

What would the study results look like if the denominations of religions were factored in?

What other lifestyle factors might have lowered incidences of death by despair besides church attendance?

Just some thoughts.

I had virtually the same questions and complaints. 🙂


This little provides many of the benefits of going to church.

One of the things I like about it is people are much more candid with their thoughts here than they are at church, and we don't have to waste an hour listing to crazy 2000+ year old fairy tales.

BD66 Level 8 May 8, 2020

Having a good support network is a protective factor. If you fit into the flock I’m sure it can work that way; but unfortunately if you don’t you can certainly feel judged and ostracised too, The figurehead of the New Testament Jesus wouldn’t have had a bar of many modern churches, just as he had issues with traditional Judaism when/(if) he was alive.


Maybe for some, but for others:


They sure as hell didn't interview my family

twill Level 7 May 8, 2020

Ive seen employees using the chapel in hospitals. Dont know about clinics n such though. And by services, that implies a leader who is performing a ritual, rather than just a "time out".


There goes the "god of the gaps" again. It must be god who did it.

As we atheists like to say, "Mere correlation does not prove causation."

Your comment is misplaced:

  • The article never claimed causation but rather specifically claimed correlation
  • Nowhere did the article, or anyone else for that matter, say that a god, gappy or otherwise, did it.

Actual Emotional and Psychological support for those on any 'front-line' in a crisis does far more good in the long run than religion/religious support any day.
As a practicing Nurse for over 10 years and 12 years on the N.S.W, Railways as a member of the Derailment and Collision, etc, Clean-up Gang I have been involved in many a harrowing, gut-wrenching crisis and never once has there been even the scent of a Preacher in sight both during and after the event.
But as a Nurse we were always offered and accepted willing the emotional and psychological support, etc, provided and we always found that it was much more helpful than mere prayers, tea and sympathy as per the religious method.

I daresay religious support IS emotional and psychological support to the religious, which would explain the results of this study.

@TheMiddleWay May one ask if YOU have ever been involved in picking up the bits and pieces of dead bodies as I have done so very often sadly?
A Preacher during and after times like that, ESPECIALLY when one is removing the shattered remain of a 10 year old child from under a 130 ton Diesel-Electric Locomotive AFTER his Aunt has played 'chicken' with a 2,500 ton train doing 90 kilometres per hour, is not much better than absolutely useless.
Far better to sit down, de-brief and talk to someone, anyone who does NOT want to offer up prayers and sympathy BUT one who will listen, understand and guide you through the absolute horrors of having to crawl under the Locomotive and gather up bits like the head, arms, legs, torso and as often as not, even the abdominal contents, etc.
So, please tell me IF you have experienced anything like that and how many times you have done it.
My sad tally in 12 years was 3 children UNDER the age 13 years, 6 Teenagers who tried JUMPING over a speeding frieght train on Motocross bikes only to end up splattered worse than bugs hitting a windscreen on a car on the sides and in between shipping containers, 2 Insurance Salepersons who were playing 'Beat the train,' 1 fellow worker crushed between the couplings of 2 freight wagons, 1 fellow worker whose legs were almost completely amputated when the wheels went over them whilec he was repairing the wagon and the Shunting Crew moved it and a local man who got drunk, accepted a dare to sleep on the tracks and lost both legs, 1 arm at the wrist and the other between the elbow and the shoulder and lastly a woman approx. 7 months pregnant who decided to commit suicide by stepping in front of a passenger train travelling between 2 Stations.

"I have been involved in many a harrowing, gut-wrenching crisis and never once has there been even the scent of a Preacher in sight both during and after the event."

"A Preacher during and after times like that, ESPECIALLY when one is removing the shattered remain of a 10 year old child from under a 130 ton Diesel-Electric Locomotive AFTER his Aunt has played 'chicken' with a 2,500 ton train doing 90 kilometres per hour, is not much better than absolutely useless."

One of theses statements is a lie.
Either you've never seen the scent of a preacher and thus can't comment on their utility.
You've seen a preacher at an accident site and thus can comment on their utility.

"Far better to sit down, de-brief and talk to someone, anyone who does NOT want to offer up prayers "
Says you. I believe your religious colleagues, victims, and survivors might have a different perspective.

"So, please tell me IF you have experienced anything like that and how many times you have done it."
I held the brains of a man who had just been run over a bus.
I pulled a woman from the fiery wreck of her car.
I've held the hand of multiple toddler terminal cancer patients.
I've been with the family when a patient coded.
And more.
Much much more.

And yet in all that, I've never once presumed to tell them what emotional support is best for them.
Some go for religion; some don't. Whatever works for them is what makes me happy.

@TheMiddleWay Would you like me relate all of my experiences as a Nurse on top of those that I had whilst working with the Railways?
Perhaps you'd like to hear what it is like to watch as a child dies from Cancer, my OWN Child as well as numerous others we met and got to know?
Maybe you might like to hear what it is like to assist the Coroner as he does a P.M. on a body that has been out in a closed car for well over a week in daily temperatures of 30+ degrees Celsius?
Or to be caled out with the Ambulance Service to attend the site where a man has sat upon a crate of Gelignite and then detonated it, spreading his bits and pieces around the ENTIRE neighbourhood?
After ever occasion al there ever was was a de-brief and a Counsellor who would listen to to us, talk WITH us and offer us words of kindness and encouragement, NOT prayers, Tea and Sympathy thankfully.
And without those neither me or any others I worked with would here today.

"Would you like me relate all of my experiences [...]"
Not really, no. You brought it up and asked if I had similar experience so I answered in the positive.

But I've no interest in your anecdotal accounts anymore than you are interested in mine. Sure, at a bar over a beer when you are relating your life and me mine... I'd love to hear it!

But as evidence that secular counseling is always better than religious counseling ( even to the religious ), in relation to the topic at hand, your anecdotes are frankly irrelevant to me and vice versa.

@TheMiddleWay They are most DEFINITELY NOT anecodotes, they are 100% Factual accounts FYI.
I would neither be exaggerating or understating that I have, in my life seen far more death and carnage that you could ever hope to even imagine.

As long as you don't have objective outside of hearsay, it is anecdotal by definition. Mind you, I'm not doubting you in the least. I believe those incidents happened. But being anecdotal, we cannot extrapolate to others, or me, since it happening to you doesn't in any way imply that it happens to me or others in the same way

To be clear, I'm using the first definition:
Learn to pronounce
a short amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person.


There are many different kinds of religious observance and this study does not address what flavor or brand produced the healthier responses to stress.

Many of my religious friends are educated and tolerant of different beliefs. Several of them are unitarians and they do not consider themselves theist at all. I also have several friends who are Episcopalian and they seem to be driven more by a strong commitment to social justice.

In other words I think the healthy emotional responses are more related to the benefits of a community and shared purpose.


For some people attending religious services brings hope and peace.

IMHO, there ain't much hope going around AFTER you've spent an hour or so picking up bits of a body or two when an idiotic driver has decided to try to beat a few thousand tons of train to a Level Crossing and lost the race.
But merely being able to sit and talk with someone who is not going to offer prayer, tea and sympathy but, instead, says to you that "you did everything humanly possible to give a bit of dignity to the person who has died" does make you feel a bit better.


Yet another study that raises far more questions than it answers.
What are the components of religion and how might each be a factor in protectong someone from despair. My immediate suspicion is the social, community aspect of organized religion plays a huge part in that benefit, protects the individual from LONELINESS that contributes to despair.. ...while the belief part largely serves to motivate members to stay involved, crucial if they are to benefit from the community perks.

"Yet another study that raises far more questions than it answers."
Ha! Some might say good science has to be that way. 🙂

@TheMiddleWay good point. I just wish this particular research question would have long since already sparked research on some of the follow up questions. Instead, I just see repeated research correlating religious observance with happiness. Meanwhile my anecdotal experience as a therapist has me more often seeing the most religious people being the most anguished about problems in their lives, tortured wondering why God allows their problems to afflict them.

While I take all such studies with a grain of salt, it bears mention that anecdotal evidence should be taken equally as salty. By this I mean, your experiences are very self-selected and modulated by your own beliefs, your community, and so many other factors that it's hard to extrapolate from us to them, from my experiences to those in general.

I think it's understandable that these questions haven't been followup on. After all, who will fund that research over adn over again? Who will hire a researcher who does this over and over again? The practical realities of research clash with their necessity all to often.

@TheMiddleWay agreed. Why I said it was anecdotal. And yes, even the choice of what is researched is never without some perspective bias.


After having read dozens of studies like this one, my personal conclusion is that it is almost impossible to tell causation from correlation and to find reliable causal pathways that apply not only within a given society (like, say, the USA or Russia) but also if we compare religious with secular societies all over the world: although within most countries religious people tend to be happier and healthier than less-religious people, the people of modernized but secular countries have higher mental and physical well-being than the people of less-modernized but highly religious countries.

This is why followups are so critical. I like you am highly skeptical of studies like this. In this case, it's a good study... good numbers, they merely comment on the correlation not implying causation, etc. But even then, a good study is a singular data point NOT the entire picture IMO.

But yeah, following up with a similar survey from other professions so it's cross-sectional and over a few years so it's longitudinal would make it more convincing.

It also depends a lot on how religion is defined. Compare education: if you define education as something of the formal type, with a degree from an accredited university, then, in practical terms, you have assumed that independent study has no validity or efficacy. From the perspective of job opportunities, that might be mostly true, but from the perspective of personal understanding, psychological wellbeing, etc., not as true.

So if we define religious participation only in terms of officialdom, then we are likewise statistically ignoring the population of people who practice independent of formal affiliation. Evidence supporting this perspective is the many yoga and meditation ( of religious origin ) practitioners in the so called modernized secular countries who would describe themselves as non-religiously affiliated for purposes of a survey. So the question becomes... does religion stop being religion when it is separated from formal organizations? The popular idea that religion is defined by a belief in the supernatural is just not supported by history, scholarship, or science.


Here’s a Pew study that backs up those results:

Pew study on benefits of religion

I need no convincing. When I look around me I can easily see that it is not Church members who are living lives of crime, drug and alcohol dependency or desperation. While it is certainly possible to lead a good and happy life without being a church member, for the population at large, you can not deny these statistics.

I personally feel that in this case correlation does not mean causation. For cause, you have to look beyond. Don’t think of a church as a “thing” with the ability to cause stuff. A church is a group of sensitive and aware people who come together for mutual support and social stimulation. They are people who were already not prone to selfishness, depression or despair.

Thanks TheMiddleWay for your very good post.

There are so many entangled factors in "attending religious services" that I'm not ready to claim causation to religion insofar as the religious nature of the services is what made the difference. It could be a host of other completely secular factors... or it could be religion! More studies need done before we can say IMO.


Great questions. Then there’s the correlation/causation question. Would mere attendance have the same effect on a non-believer? I doubt it would. I suspect the causal agent is a particular worldview, and I also think a suitably conducive worldview could be constructed of non-supernatural elements. But... it’s not easy to do alone. Generally, some kind of training is needed, and most non-religious people are allergic to the suggestion of “spiritual” training. So they prefer suffering. The problem is, like with the virus, their suffering adds to societal suffering in general.

skado Level 9 May 7, 2020

I was also thinking if the group meet was part of the effect, the notion that you see that you are not alone and you see that there are people to talk to. Problem with that thought is that attending religious services is not a social affair even if it is a communal one. But maybe seeing your aren't alone is enough...

Given that this is focused on health care people, it'd love to know what strategies, methods, locations, and events could have the same effect on non-religious health care workers... or, god forbid, if they don't have any and suffer increased death from despair as an unfortunate casualty of non-belief.

I wonder if studies have been done comparing church-goers with people who regularly attend non-religious groups. I know social isolation can affect mental health in general, but I don’t know if it’s just a matter of being around other people, or if it has something to do with the religious mindset.


Pew study on benefits of religion

Scholarly article on religion and crime

Read the abstract:

American Psychological Assn:


Good info but the nexus of religion and crime is not really the metric we are examining.

The nexus of mental health and religion is, insofar as benefits and detriments to attending religious services and how said benefits or detriments can be replicated in non-religious services.

True. I'm also not sure how this survey defined "religious attendance". As you say, it could range from a church picnic to a silent observance.

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