Study Suggests One Specific Activity Reduces Suicide Rates Among Women

The recent rash of celebrity deaths attributed to suicide has sparked a great deal of interest in prevention. How do we prevent and reverse the trend of people having so little hope in life that they feel the only way out is to end theirs.

It turns out that a 2016 Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry study may have the answer.

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 Wednesday by JAMA Psychiatry.

It’s not clear how widely the findings can be applied to a diverse population of American women. 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 U.S. women as a whole. Of 89,708 participants aged 30 to 55, 36 committed suicide at some point over 15 years.

Amazing, isn’t it? Suicide rates climbed at the same time that church attendance plummeted. The study bears this out as the women involved who did not attend services even though they identified as either Catholic or protestant took their own lives at the same rate as those who did not claim to be any sort of Christian.

…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.

As a service attending Christian (at least twice a week, sometimes more depending on circumstances), perhaps it is not simply social participation or any sort of buffer against isolation. It is also what actually happens and is heard and felt at the service that brings peace and joy to the soul. Scientists might discount that, and no psychiatrist is going to prescribe religious services as treatment, but those of us who actually fall in the one category of women who did not lose a single member in this study to suicide, will say that this is exactly the case regardless of the teaching on suicide being a sin.

Among the 6,999 Catholic women who said they attended [M]ass more than once a week, there was not a single suicide.

There may well be a simple solution to the suicide epidemic. The question for all is do we have the courage to actually say it and spread the word that going to church actually is a matter of public health.

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