GOING to church is an effective way of keeping depression at bay, research suggests.
People who join a religious organisation – whether it is a church, synagogue or mosque – have better mental health than those who join a community group or political party, academics found.
Membership of a religious group is also more beneficial than taking part in sport, education or charity work, their study suggests.
The four-year study monitored 9 000 people aged over 50, from countries across Europe.
The British and Dutch team, whose research was published yesterday in the American Journal of Epidemiology, looked at different levels of social activity and how they influenced people’s moods.
They found that joining a religious organisation was the best way of combating depression.
The academics, from the London School of Economics and Political Science, said it is not clear faith itself helps people, or if religion simply gives people a sense of belonging.
But while they could see a significant and long-term benefit from church membership, other social organisations had the opposite effect.
People who joined political and community groups tended to show an initial improvement in mental health, but then declined over the long term.
LSE health expert Dr Mauricio Avendano said the only activity associated with sustained happiness was attending a church, synagogue or mosque.
“The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life.
“It is not clear to us how much this is about religion per se, or whether it may be about the sense of belonging and not being socially isolated,” he said.
The research, carried out with Erasmus University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, did not find any short-term benefits from sports and participation in other social activities.
“Participants receive a higher sense of reward when they first join an organisation but if it involves a lot of effort and they don’t get much in return, the benefits may wear off after some time,” Dr Avendano said.
“Our findings suggest that different types of social activities have an impact on mental health among older people, but the strength and direction of this effect varies according to the activity.
“One of the most puzzling findings is that although healthier people are more likely to volunteer, we found no evidence that volunteering actually leads to better mental health.
“It may be that any benefits are outweighed by other negative impacts of volunteering, such as stress.” – Daily Mail