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Religious faith has big impact on reducing depression among African Americans

University Of Chicago : 28 May, 2007  (Technical Article)
A strong belief in God can have a powerful impact on reducing depression, particularly among African Americans, according to a preliminary analysis of data gathered in the study of aging and social relations on health at the University of Chicago.
Among the researchers’ initial discoveries is that African Americans who say they have a strong relationship with God were significantly less likely to report depressive symptoms than those who did not. Among white participants in the study, there was very little impact of religious belief and reported depression. The data were gathered as part of the University’s Chicago Health, Aging and Social Environment and Relations Study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, and analyzed with support from a new project on faith and health funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Both projects are headed by John Cacioppo, one of the nation’s leading experts on the impact of loneliness on health. Cacioppo is the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University. -over-

In order to determine why African Americans were more likely to have depression reduced by religious belief, the team funded by the Templeton grant measured feelings of alienation, which they hypothesized may have an impact on depression. Because of discrimination and related experiences, African Americans reported higher levels of alienation than did whites, the team found.

“We reasoned that when one’s group is the target of cultural bias, connections with one’s countrymen may not be sufficient to reduce feelings of alienation. Reliance on a power that supercedes that of the country, God, may be beneficial, however,” Cacioppo said.

“Thus the consequences of a personal relationship with God may confer benefits in circumstances beyond the reach of relationships with individuals,” he added.

The discoveries about depression are part of the work of the Templeton Foundation research to provide high quality scientific analyses of the connections between faith and health. Although other research has been done on the subject, much of it has produced conflicting results. Additionally, that research looked at religious practices, such as church attendance and religious affiliation, rather than perceived relationship with God.

The new research is intended to determine if a perceived relationship with God functions in the same way as a relationship with other people in sustaining health.

The Templeton Foundation has given the University $1.8 million to launch the study of health and faith, which will be coupled with University work on aging supported with $7.5 million from the National Institute on Aging of the Department of Health and Human Services. That work is a multi-disciplinary effort to understand the connections between longevity and loneliness.
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