To find out, researchers at McLean hospital, a psychiatric institution affiliated with Harvard Medical School, asked 159 patients with prominent symptoms of depression how strongly they believed in a god.1 They also asked how credible the patients thought their treatment was, and how effective they believed it would be in relieving their symptoms.
The patients’ symptoms were assessed when admitted, and again upon release from the program.
Of the participants, 71 percent reported believing in a god or a higher power to some extent. Those whose belief in a god was stronger, regardless of the god or religious affiliation (including non-affiliation), were twice as likely to respond well to the treatment and experiencing better outcomes, such as:
- Lessening of depression
- Reductions in self-harm
- Increases in psychological well-being (peace of mind, ability to have fun, general satisfaction)
As reported by The Atlantic:2
“The researchers point out that people who believed in a god, or were affiliated with a religion, were also more likely to believe their psychiatric treatment was credible and to expect positive results.
It may be, they write, that ‘the tendency to have faith in conventional social constructs’ can be generalized both to religion and the medical establishment. Since other studies have shown that faith in a given treatment is an important predictor of its effectiveness, that could help explain the association with improved outcomes found here.”
The Stigma of Mental Illness Within the Church
The recent suicide of 27-year-old Matthew Warren,3 youngest son of Pastor Rick Warren, founder of the mega-church Saddleback Valley Community Church in California, brought mental illness back into view for many within the confines of religion.
NPR4 recently featured an interview with journalist and evangelical Christian Christine Scheller on the sometimes complicated relationship between faith and mental illness. Scheller also lost her son to suicide five years ago. (For a transcript of this program, please see the original source page.)5