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Depression Research and Treatment
Volume 2012, Article ID 962860, 8 pages
Review Article

Religious and Spiritual Factors in Depression: Review and Integration of the Research

1Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology, Sigmund Freud University, 1030 Vienna, Austria
2Division of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA
3Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, Duke University Medical Center, Box 3400, Durham, NC 27705, USA
4Department of Medicine, King Abdulaziz University (KAU), Jeddah 21589, Saudi Arabia
5Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215, USA
6Department of Psychiatry, Ilam University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

Received 14 May 2012; Revised 29 June 2012; Accepted 4 July 2012

Academic Editor: Charles B. Nemeroff

Copyright © 2012 Raphael Bonelli et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Depressive symptoms and religious/spiritual (R/S) practices are widespread around the world, but their intersection has received relatively little attention from mainstream mental health professionals. This paper reviews and synthesizes quantitative research examining relationships between R/S involvement and depressive symptoms or disorders during the last 50 years (1962 to 2011). At least 444 studies have now quantitatively examined these relationships. Of those, over 60% report less depression and faster remission from depression in those more R/S or a reduction in depression severity in response to an R/S intervention. In contrast, only 6% report greater depression. Of the 178 most methodologically rigorous studies, 119 (67%) find inverse relationships between R/S and depression. Religious beliefs and practices may help people to cope better with stressful life circumstances, give meaning and hope, and surround depressed persons with a supportive community. In some populations or individuals, however, religious beliefs may increase guilt and lead to discouragement as people fail to live up to the high standards of their religious tradition. Understanding the role that R/S factors play in preventing depression, facilitating its resolution, or leading to greater depression will help clinicians determine whether this is a resource or a liability for individual patients.