Tuesday, December 2, 2008

When Depression Meets Spirituality

It is no secret that the elderly suffer from a wide variety of maladies, with the mood disorder known as depression being one of them. Not everything that might work to alleviate depression in younger patients would work with the elderly, and not too many really consider therapy to be a practical option. However, there are still a few who would prefer to find some way to alleviate the symptoms and make their days more comfortable. Some turn to medication and others turn to family. Another viable option could be to embrace something that science normally is not associated with: spirituality.

Studies presented in the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting showed that those who used religion-related coping strategies had fewer and less intense symptoms of depression than those who did not. It is quite difficult to ignore when both medical and psychiatric authorities have reported and recognized this event, but most do not take it as a sign that religion should be “prescribed” as a treatment for clinical depression. Just as it may help some patients, it could just as easily have no effects on others, or make their conditions even worse.

Attempts in medical literature to describe the benefits and effects of religion on depression have recorded mixed results. The studies often focused on the coping mechanisms, religious practices, and social support structures available with each major faith and how those factors affected the depressed. A comprehensive study in one instance found that there was no real change, while another reported a small improvement after a six month observation period. The results of numerous other studies have ranged somewhere between two possibilities: no improvement, and noticeable improvement.

There are also reports of depression actually becoming worse after a religious coping experience, though they did not seem to re-manifest when the patients were observed again after six months. Some groups have mentioned this as evidence that doctors should consider encouraging a reconnection with religion as a supplement to more conventional depression treatments.

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