American women, particularly Catholics, who practise their Christian faith have bucked a trend of rising suicide rates, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Compared with women who never participated in religious services, women who attended any religious service once a week or more were five times less likely to commit suicide between 1996 and 2010, says a study published on Wednesday by JAMA Psychiatry.
In a study population made up of nurses and dominated by women who identified themselves as either Catholic or Protestant, the suicide rate observed was about half that for US women as a whole. Of 89,708 participants aged 30 to 55, 36 committed suicide at some point over 15 years.
The women's church attendance was not the only factor; which church they attended mattered as well. Protestant women who worshiped weekly at church were far less likely to take their own lives than were women who seldom or never attended services. But these same Protestant women were still seven times more likely to die by their own hand than were their devout Catholic sisters.
Among the 6999 Catholic women who said they attended mass more than once a week, there was not a single suicide.
The suicide-prevention effect of religion was clearly not a simple matter of group identity: Self-identified Catholics who never attended mass committed suicide nearly as often as did women of any religion who were not active worshipers.
Instead, the authors suggested that attendance at religious services is "a form of meaningful social participation" that buffers women against loneliness and isolation – both factors that are strongly implicated in depression and suicide. "Religion and spirituality may be an underappreciated resource that psychiatrists and clinicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate," wrote a team of researchers led by Tyler J. VanderWeele of Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.