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Friday, 12 November, 1999, 03:03 GMT
Praying 'aids mental health'
A religious person prays
People who pray frequently have better mental health
People who pray frequently are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, according to a study.

Much research has recently focused on the relationship between mental health and religion - with conflicting results.

A study by psychologists from Sheffield Hallam University looks into what aspects of religious observance are particularly likely to influence mental well-being.

They found that personal prayer was much more likely to have a positive effect than going to church for social reasons.

They studied 251 men and 223 women aged between 18 and 29, and measured their reasons for having a religious belief, the frequency with which they attended church and their tendency to depression.

Women were more likely to be religious than men, but for both the frequency with which they prayed was strongly associated with fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.

And although people who saw religion as being present in every aspect of their lives were less likely to be mentally ill than others, only those who also prayed frequently had noticeably higher self-esteem.

Those who attended church for social reasons were likely to be more depressed and the mental health of those who were religious, but constantly questioned their beliefs was unaffected by their beliefs and practices.

Stress

The researchers, led by Dr John Maltby, say their findings suggest that the relationship between mental health and religion is linked to the way people use prayer to deal with stress.

Writing in the British Journal of Health Psychologiy, they said: "This finding would apper to support the view that a religious coping model is integral to the understanding of the relationship between religiosity and psychological well-being."

A spokeswoman for the Mental Health Foundation, which recently published a book on religion and mental health, said it had also found that those with a personal spirituality and life philosophy were more likely to be able to cope with stress.

"People who are religious on a personal level rather than adopting an organised religion, who perceive reasons for things and their role within a wider universe, appear less likely to suffer mental ill health," she said.

"They seem to be calmer and have a sense of order and a personal perspective which makes them feel more in control instead of passing responsibility to someone or something else."

The foundation runs a strategies for living programme which looks at what people find helpful in coping with everyday stresses.

It suggests health professionals should take a holistic approach to mental health, rather than just dealing with a person's symptoms.

The spokeswoman said it appeared spirituality in its widest sense had a positive effect on mental health.

"It may be as simple as having personal time and space and prayer may give people that," she said.

"Not having enough time to focus on yourself can contribute to mental distress."

However, the National Secular Society dismissed the idea that prayer helps mental health as "absolute rubbish".

It said research also showed bingo helped mental health.

"It is nothing to do with prayer," said a spokesman. "It is to do with community and togetherness."

See also:

04 Oct 99 | Health
Faith 'good for mental health'
17 Apr 99 | Health
Religion tackles mental illness
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