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New Harvard study shows attending church weekly reduces risk of despair and substance-related death

by Premier Journalist

A new study from a research team at Harvard University has found that those who attend church on a regular basis are at a lower risk of dying from alcohol, drugs or suicide.  

The research, which was carried out by a group at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry last week, was titled “Religious Service Attendance and Deaths Related to Drugs, Alcohol, and Suicide Among US Health Care Professionals” and showed that those who attend weekly worship were less likely to die of these "deaths from despair.”

As the study pointed out, life expectancy has been plummeting in recent years due to a marked increase in these types of deaths:

"Life expectancy in the US has decreased for 3 consecutive years since 2015. In particular, the mortality rates among middle-aged non-Hispanic white men and women aged 25 to 64 years increased by 5.2% between 1999 and 2016, with the differences particularly pronounced among individuals without a college degree. This increase in midlife mortality was largely associated with the increasing deaths from suicide, unintentional drug (eg, opioids) and alcohol poisoning, and alcohol-associated chronic liver disease and cirrhosis."

The results of the study were astonishing. Amongst women healthcare professionals, those who attended church once per week had a 68% lower risk of death from despair compared to colleagues who did not. Additionally, men who attended worship on a weekly basis had a 33% lower risk than those who didn't.

"The findings suggest that religious service attendance is associated with a lower risk of death from despair among health care professionals," the study concluded. "These results may be important in understanding trends in deaths from despair in the general population." 

The researchers offered their opinion on the potential reasons for why church attendance had such a profound impact on the health and wellbeing of participants.

They wrote: "Religion may be a social determinant of health and is associated with various aspects of health and well-being. Religious participation may promote health and well-being through strengthening social integration, encouraging healthy behaviors, and providing a sense of hope, meaning, and purpose in life.

"Previous evidence has suggested that the communal aspect of religion, namely service attendance, was inversely associated with various factors related to despair (eg, lower risk of suicidality, heavy drinking, substance misuse, and depression)."

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