By Cian Molloy - 09 August, 2019
“If religious attendance facilitates older people to maintain a larger social circle with continued social engagement, alternative ways to socialise will be necessary as we develop into a more secular society.”
Going to church regularly is linked to having better mental health, according to a study by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin.
Regular religious attendance was associated with lower depressive symptoms in a six-year study of more than 6,000 adults aged 50 and over. Both men and women who attended religious services regularly had lower depressive symptoms.
Researchers Joanna Orr and Rose Kearney said that the relationship between being religious and mental health was found to be complex. For example, survey respondents who said that religion was “very important” to them, but who did not attend church very frequently, had worse mental health.
Ms Orr and Ms Kearney said a key factor is that religious attendance is related to having a bigger social network, which in turn has a positive effect on mental health.
Over the six years of the study, from January 2010 to December 2016, where four waves of respondents were interviewed, the TCD researchers found that religious attendance declined for both men and women – down from 91 per cent to 89 per cent among women and down from 89 per cent to 87 per cent among men.
“Considering the decline in religious participation, belief and practice in Ireland, it is important to assess how this may affect those who are religious,” said Ms Orr.
“Maintenance of religious practice for those who are religious, as well as the maintenance and bolstering of social networks and social participation for all in this age group emerge as important.”
Ms Kearney added: “The importance of continued social engagement and social participation as we age is well established and has been associated with improved health and well-being and lower mortality. If religious attendance facilitates older people to maintain a larger social circle with continued social engagement, alternative ways to socialise will be necessary as we develop into a more secular society.”
It may be that there are other factors at play. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, has conducted numerous studies demonstrating the positive benefits of expressing and feeling gratitude. Not only does thankfulness lead to better mental health, Mr Emmons argues that it also leads to improved success in forming new relationships with others, enhanced empathy, reduced aggression and an ability to sleep better than those who nurse resentment.