A team of psychiatric researchers based at the University of Manitoba has found a possible relationship between a person's attendance at a religious worship service and his or her desire to commit suicide.
The study was conducted using data drawn from the Canadian Community Health Survey on almost 37,000 Canadians across the country. This was the first study to use national data to look at the relationship between spirituality, religious worship and suicidal behaviour in the general population and people with a history of a mental disorder.
Daniel Rasic, primary author of the study, notes: "The main finding of this study is that religious worship attendance is associated with a decreased risk of suicide attempts."
However, the study made a distinction between people who call themselves "spiritual" and those who also regularly attend religious services. The former category did not show a decreased inclination to take their lives, suggesting something more was involved, related to the actual attendance at a religious event occurring in a church, mosque, temple or other spiritual gathering.
In the general population, those identifying themselves as at least somewhat spiritual were significantly less likely to report a past year suicide attempt than those not considering themselves spiritual in nature. However, this finding was not significant after adjusting for the influence of social supports such as support groups, counseling and community networking.
Rasic cautions that the survey did not look at why the decrease in suicide attempts was related to religious worship.
"The causality of relationships cannot be inferred from this study," he notes.
Among people with a history of mental illness, those at the highest risk of suicide, religious attendance appears associated with a decrease in suicide attempts. But simply being "spiritual" was not significant enough to reduce the effect.
"Further study into the relationship between active spiritual practice and suicidal behaviour is needed," Rasic says.
The research results have been published in the Journal of Affective Disorders