“Should Doctors Prescribe Religion for Mental Health?”

Soul Science—Episode #1:

A New Project at Patheos Catholic

It has been a while since I’ve posted here at New Walden. I’ve done some things for The Stream. And I’ve also started a new podcast and blog for the Catholic channel at Patheos .com. I intend to keep New Walden active, but I’ve been trying to define a specific role for New Walden. I will talk about that in separate post.

Anyway, I’m excited about this podcasting project. And I hope you like it. The video version of this podcast is available at Patheos and Youtube.

Partial Transcript:

So we’re talking about a huge news story that really was underreported this past summer. The CDC reportedthat 2022 saw more suicides in the United States than ever before. That’s 49,500 suicides in one year. And that is a record. It is a very sad record, and it’s a very sad commentary on the state of mental health in America. But it’s also a very sad commentary on the state of mental healthcare in America. It should lead people to ask questions about whether we’re doing everything we can  in mental healthcare, or whether we need to make some changes. And that leads to the topic for today’s  conversation, which  is this controversial question you can see on the screen: “Should doctors prescribe religion for mental health problems?”

 Prayer and meditation are associated with stress reduction. SOURCE: Pexels / Pixabay

It’s not my question; it was actually a question raised by Dr. Tyler VanderWeele at Harvard, at the Harvard School of Public Health when he gave a lecture this summer at the National Institute of Health.  Dr. VanderWeele was raising this question based on the research he’s been doing over the past several years. His research was published, I believe, the first time in 2016, and it’s based on a long-term study of nurses that was conducted by the the medical profession.  You can see on the screen here some of the basic information about the study. It took place over 15 years and included more than 70,000 nurses.

. . . .

This is what Dr. VanderWeele wrote in Christianity Today. He said,”Religious participation strongly promotes health and wellness,” and that includes mental health.” [So I’ve got to get my coffee in a more strategic location. Here we go; oh, that’s much better.] So let’s go over some of the health benefits of  religious participation according to Dr. VanderWeele’s research on the screen here. A big big number here: The nurses that reported attending church services regularly showed a 50% reduced risk

from deaths of despair, and Dr VanderWeele defines deaths of despair as those deaths that come from drug abuse or alcohol abuse and suicide. And if we focus more narrowly on suicide, the nurses who were active with their churches  showed an 84% reduced risk of suicide. That is an absolutely huge number.

 Church service attendance is linked to reduced risks for depression and suicide. SOURCE: 12019 / Pixabay

And it should lead us to, you know, take a closer look at the CDC report: more suicides last year than at any other time in American history. And if Dr. VanderWeele’s research holds true, then we would expect to see low religious participation in the United States. And, sure enough, that’s exactly what the Gallup poll revealed. In a report on church membership in 2020, Gallup reported that, for the first time in American history, church membership dropped below 50%  in 2020. That’s the lowest percentage of church membership in American history. . . .

See the podcast for the full discussion!

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