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Religious Practices and Mental Health Among Older Adults in The U.S. Christopher G. Ellison Department of Sociology The University of Texas at Austin Religion and Mental Health Religion has a mostly salutary effect on mental health

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religious practices and mental health among older adults in the u s

Religious Practices and Mental Health Among Older Adults in The U.S.

Christopher G. Ellison

Department of Sociology

The University of Texas at Austin

religion and mental health
Religion and Mental Health
  • Religion has a mostly salutary effect on mental health
  • Religiousness conceptualized and measured in many ways, but religious behavior is the most common
  • Organizational and non-organizational religiosity are the most common
limitations in the study of religion and mental health
Limitations in the Study of Religion and Mental Health
  • Paucity of longitudinal studies
  • Measurement of religiousness
  • Lack of consensus over which mental health outcomes are most closely linked with religion
  • Minimal attention to subgroup variation (especially racial differences)
  • Lack of clarity regarding the mechanisms that explain these relationships
why focus on organizational religious practices
Why Focus on Organizational Religious Practices?
  • Religious congregations provide the context for the cultivation of social relationships among those with shared beliefs and worldviews.
  • Provides social support that affords socioemotional aid and spiritual reinforcement.
  • Can bolster self-perceptions through positive appraisals or learned competency.
  • Worship activities themselves may be emotionally uplifting spiritual events that reinforce plausibility structures.
why focus on non organizational religious practices
Why Focus on non-Organizational Religious Practices?
  • Personal devotional activities such as prayer may be essential for the development of a personal relationship with God.
  • Believers engage in a conversation or dialogue with God.
  • May create lower levels of somatic arousal and increased levels of tranquility.
  • Bible reading, meditation, and other private religious behaviors may assist individuals in cultivating a spiritual narrative for their life experience
listening to religious music
Listening to Religious Music
  • No empirical studies linking to mental health.
  • Although exposure to music and individual emotional states have been linked (e.g. calmness, concentration).
  • Anecdotal evidence from the faithful.
  • Can elicit memories or spiritual experiences.
racial differences in the religion mental health connection
Racial Differences in the Religion/Mental Health Connection
  • African Americans more Religious than non-Hispanic whites.
  • Religious institutions, beliefs, and practices provide a distinctive social context for African Americans:

-Core institution in African American history

- Practical theology

- Relational Spirituality

- Worship styles dispel negative emotions

- Aspects of religiousness and spirituality may be more strongly related to health and well-being for African Americans than whites

research questions
Research Questions
  • Is it more important to focus on religious attendance or other forms of congregational and small group activities?
  • Is it most important to consider the frequency of private prayer? Or do other non-organizational behaviors (e.g., Bible study, reading other religious materials) also matter?
  • Is religious music in general linked with mental health?
  • Are religious behaviors more predictive of mental health among African Americans? What mechanism mediate this relationship?
data and methods
Data and Methods
  • Religion, Aging, and Health Survey, 2001, 2004 (Neal Krause, PI)
    • 1500 community-dwelling US adults ages 65 and over
    • Roughly equal numbers of African Americans and non-Hispanic whites
    • Persons of Christian affiliation or background only
    • In-person interviews conducted by Harris Organization
    • Has yielded numerous substantive and methodological contributions to the literatures in religion, social gerontology, and health
  • OLS Regression

- N=1338-1363 cross sectional; 912-942 longitudinal

dependent variables at t1 and t2
Dependent Variables at T1 and T2
  • Psychological Distress (8 items; T1 alpha=.87, T2 alpha=.88)
  • Life Satisfaction (4 items; T1 alpha=.75, T2 alpha=.84)
  • Self-Esteem (3 items; T1 alpha=.90, T2 alpha=.91)
  • Death Anxiety (4 items; T1 alpha=.85, T2 alpha=.89)
  • Optimism (4 items; T1 alpha=.86, T2 alpha=.89)
  • Personal Mastery (4 items; T1 alpha=.85, T2 alpha=.86)
independent variables at t1
Independent Variables at T1
  • Organizational Religious Behavior: How often do you: attend religious services? --attend adult Sunday School or Bible study groups? --participate in prayer groups that are not part of regular worship services or Bible study groups? Are you a deacon, elder, lay pastor, church mother, chair of a church committee, choir director, or regular Sunday School teacher?
  • Non-Organizational Religious Behavior How often do you:pray by yourself? When you are at home how often do you: --read the Bible? --read religious literature other than the Bible? --read religious newsletters, magazines, or church bulletins? How often do you: --listen to religious music outside church --like when you are at home or driving in your car? --listen to Gospel music?
potential mediators at t1
Potential Mediators at T1
  • Emotional Support from Church Members

(3 items; alpha=.88)

  • Anticipated Support from Church Members

(3 items; alpha=.95)

  • Positive Religious Coping Strategies

(3 items; alpha=.90)

  • Closeness to God

(3 items; alpha=.93)

  • Sense of God Control

(6 items; alpha=.94)

table 1 summary of cross sectional associations between religious practices and mental health
Table 1: Summary of Cross-Sectional Associations Between Religious Practices and Mental Health
table 1 summary of cross sectional associations between religious practices and mental health14
Table 1: Summary of Cross-Sectional Associations Between Religious Practices and Mental Health
table 2 summary of longitudinal results between religious practices and mental health
Table 2: Summary of Longitudinal Results Between Religious Practices and Mental Health
table 2 summary of longitudinal results between religious practices and mental health16
Table 2: Summary of Longitudinal Results Between Religious Practices and Mental Health
discussion
Discussion
  • Religious behaviors most strongly associated with mental health in cross-sectional associations
  • Religious attendance is linked with all 6 outcomes for African Americans at T1, and with changes in 2 of the 6 (self-esteem and mastery) between T1 and T2
  • No clear mediating factor for African Americans, while anticipated social support mediates the relationship between attendance and distress for whites
discussion continued
Discussion Continued…
  • Other organizational aspects of religion were unrelated to mental health
  • Frequency of prayer mediated by sense of god control in cross-sectional analyses; prayer was associated with one mental health outcome in longitudinal analyses and no mediating factors were found
  • Frequency of listening to religious music is associated with 2 psychosocial variables (life satisfaction and optimism) at T1, but strikingly, it is linked with favorable changes in 4 of the 6 outcomes (satisfaction, optimism, self-esteem, and mastery) between T1 and T2
conclusion
Conclusion
  • Focus on negative and positive aspects of mental health
  • Explore temporal lags in gauging effects on mental health (i.e. more time points)
  • Attendance at religious services yields greater gains for African Americans--Why?
  • Effects of religious music require further exploration
conclusion continued
Conclusion Continued…
  • This study has attempted to address some of the issues absent in the literature including:
    • comparing the effects of multiple indicators of religious practice
    • examining multiple indicators of mental health
    • estimating models using both cross-sectional and longitudinal data
    • exploring race differences in the key relationships
    • conducting preliminary analyses of possible mediators
  • Further work along these lines can help to clarify the nature of the complex connection between religion and mental health.
religious practices and mental health among older adults in the u s21

Religious Practices and Mental Health Among Older Adults in The U.S.

Christopher G. Ellison

Department of Sociology

The University of Texas at Austin