DEPRESSION MORE LIKELY IN PENTACOSTAL CULTS
The rate of major depression among Pentacostal Christians is three
times higher than among members of other religious groups, according
to a study of 2,850 North Carolina residents. But whether this means
that Pentacostal sects, a form of conservative Christianity that
usually features speaking in tongues, attract more depressed people
or whether the prevalence of depression reflects a franker
acknowledgement of emotional difficulties among Pentacostals,
the authors can't say.
The study, led by Keith G. Meador, assistant clinical professor of
psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, is one of the few
to examine religious affiliation and mental health. Meador and his
co-authors, who published their results in the December issue of the
journal Hospital and Community Psychiatry, used data from a large
study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Researchers divided the survey respondents into six categories:
mainline Protestant (which included Presbyterian, Methodist,
Lutheran, Episcopalian, African Methodist Episcopal and Quaker);
conservative Protestant (including Baptist and Seventh Day Adventist);
Roman Catholic; Pentacostals (Church of God, Assembly of God, People's
Temple); other (Unitarian, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Muslim) and no
religion (those who had no preference or refused to answer).
The age, race, "socioeconomic" status and gender distribution of the
group reflected the population of North Carolina. The authors found
that the rate of serious depression in the previous six months among
Pentacostal Christians was 5.4 percent, compared to 1.7 percent for
the entire survey group.
"One possible explanation for the increased prevalence of major
depression among Pentacostals is . . . that these groups frequently
emphasize charismatic forms of healing and supernatural cures for
illness," the authors write. Therefore they hypothesize, "religiously
inclined persons experiencing the pain and distress of major depression
might seek out such groups."
There are other possible explanations, the authors observe, among them
that Pentacostal affiliation causes depression. "One could argue that
despite the seemingly internally supportive milieu provided by
Pentacostal groups, they simultaneously isolate members from the
broader culture, thereby at least subtly fostering feelings of social
isolation and of powerlessness."
The other possibility, the authors point out, is that the findings are
merely a chance occurence. Regardless of the reason, they conclude that
the results of the study "are most useful for developing hypothesis for
future work" that would explore the largely overlooked interrelationship
between specific religious practices and mental health.