A person's lifetime pattern of religious activities can affect his or her mental health, says a new study.
The study, conducted by Joanna Maselko, an assistant professor of public health at Temple University and team, analysed 718 adults, comprising of males as well as females, of which majority had changed their level of religious activity between childhood and adulthood.
The analysis found that the women who had stopped being religiously active were more than three times more likely to have suffered generalized anxiety and alcohol abuse/dependence than women who reported always having been active.
Out of the 278 women in the group, 39 percent had always been religiously active and 51 percent had not been active since childhood.
About 7 percent of the women who have always been religiously active met the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder compared to 21 percent of women who had stopped being religiously active.
On the contrary, men who stopped being religiously active were less likely to suffer major depression when compared to men who had always been religiously active.
"One's lifetime pattern of religious service attendance can be related to psychiatric illness," said Maselko.
Maselko contemplated one possible explanation for the gender differences in the relationship between religious activity and mental health.
"Women are simply more integrated into the social networks of their religious communities. When they stop attending religious services, they lose access to that network and all its potential benefits. Men may not be as integrated into the religious community in the first place and so may not suffer the negative consequences of leaving.
"A person's current level of spirituality is only part of the story. We can only get a better understanding of the relationship between health and spirituality by knowing a person's lifetime religious history.
"Everyone has some spirituality, whether it is an active part of their life or not; whether they are agnostic or atheist or just 'non-practicing.' These choices potentially have health implications, similar to the way that one's social networks do," Maselko added.
The study is published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.