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Religious Coping Positively Affects Individuals with Severe Psychiatric Illness

Spiritual struggle also tied to greater risk of suicide prior to treatment

30 Nov '13 Print

Belmont, MA - The use of religious coping has been shown to significantly improve the treatment outcomes of those receiving short-term treatment for psychiatric illness, according to a recent study conducted by McLean Hospital investigators.

In the study (PMID: 23684053), published in the current issue of Psychiatry Research, David H. Rosmarin, PhD, McLean Hospital clinician and instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, examined individuals at the Behavioral Health Partial Hospital Program at McLean in an effort to investigate the relationship between the suicidality of psychotic patients who used religious coping versus those that did not.

"The outcomes that we saw suggest that people who use negative religious coping such as thinking that God is punishing them or that the devil is behind their condition, were at much greater risk for suicide prior to treatment," said Rosmarin. "However, people who use positive religious coping techniques such as prayer and acceptance of "God's plan" performed significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those who do not use it."

The study looked at 47 patients, recruited over a one-year period. Each participant completed measures of religious involvement, religious coping and suicidality prior to treatment, and psychosis, depression, anxiety and psychological well-being were assessed over the course of treatment.

Of the patients sampled, more than 80 percent used spirituality in some way as a coping mechanism for dealing with their illness or stress, yet only 20 percent of those participating called themselves religious. In fact, only 8 percent of those sampled referred to themselves as very religious.

"We were surprised to find that religious coping was so common in our sample, even among those who are not themselves religious in any way," added Rosmarin. "This is one of the first studies looking at religious coping among psychiatric patients and we are hopeful that this will lead to further study of religion and spirituality with larger samples. Harnessing
spiritual resources in treatment may lead to lower suicide rates and better treatment outcomes in this population."

McLean Hospital is the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a member of Partners HealthCare. For more information about McLean, visit mcleanhospital.org or follow the hospital on Facebook or Twitter.

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