Does Religion Help Mental Health? It Might Depend On How You Think About God

Some relationships are good for your mental health, and some aren’t. It depends on the specifics. And it might be that your relationship with God is no exception.

At least, that’s what a recent study from researchers at Baylor University suggests. The researchers surveyed a group of older adults, looking at how these adults’ religious feelings and mental health changed over time.

The first thing they found is that the power of prayer may be a little overrated, at least as far as mental health is concerned. They failed to find any evidence that praying more frequently led to any subsequent improvements in psychological wellbeing by itself.

But they found that for people who had a certain type of relationship with God, prayer did seem to have some benefits. In particular, prayer was associated with psychological wellbeing for people who had a secure attachment to God but not for people who were more insecurely attached in their relationship with God. Being securely attached with God also correlated with subsequently becoming more optimistic – but not with developing higher self-esteem or greater life satisfaction.

Another study published by the researchers around the same time also came up with results supporting the idea that what matters in terms of mental health is what kind of relationship someone has with God specifically, not whether or not they have a relationship with God in the first place.

This second study showed that when people had secure attachments to God, feeling forgiven by God tended to predict rises in psychological wellbeing over time. The same was not true for people who had insecure attachments to God.

The question of whether religion is good, bad or neither for mental health has always been a complicated one, and this new research only makes it more complicated. It may be that untangling the relationship between religion and mental health means homing in on the specifics of how different people develop different views of God and whether certain relationships with God are healthier than others.

Image: Flickr/Scouts Falcón