The most religious suffered the least under COVID lockdowns: new study

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Taken from a sample of 3,884 people in the U.K., the study found that ‘religious people coped better during the lockdowns,’ with their rates of depression far lower than those with ‘no belief’ in God.

A study by the U.K.’s University of Cambridge has found that the most religious suffered least under lockdown.

Taken from a sample of 3,884 people, the study found that “religious people coped better during the lockdowns,” with their rates of depression far lower than those with “no belief” in God.

The January 30 report, titled “Do Religious People Cope Better in a Crisis? Evidence from the U.K. Pandemic Lockdowns,” answered its own question in the affirmative.

If one we were to ask if religious people cope better in a crisis, an examination of the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic would suggest that the answer is yes, even in a society such as the United Kingdom that is not particularly religious…

The report contributes to mounting evidence that the belief in God makes not only for a happier life, but a healthier society in general.


Wider effects

A footnote in the report highlights the broader social impact of religious belief:

There is also an important literature showing that religious proscriptions may help with self-regulation and reduce the incidence of risky or self-destructive behaviour (James and Wells 2003…).

The 20-year-old paper by James and Wells, “Religion and mental health,” notes in its introduction that “religion is frequently ignored within the clinical domain,” and that “there is a need for further efforts to incorporate religious and spiritual factors in the clinical arena.”

No effort has yet been made by politicians or clinical practitioners to include the significance of religious belief in public and mental health policy. With the evidence mounting for the benefits of belief in God, this could be set to change. In a 2022 report on the impact of strong religious belief on worldwide rates of mental health, researchers found that daily prayer made for the happiest people – by far. 

Source: Religion and mental health, Iyer and Rosso, February 2022

Further studies showed that religiosity correlated with reduced delinquency and improved behavior and motivation in the young:

Fruehwirth et al. (2019) have shown that religiosity can help adolescents adopt positive behaviour and to be more motivated in their activities, through peer effects.

The Freuhwirth methodology has been adopted, as it captures the significance of the degree of religiosity in determining mental health. The more religious you are, the better. Yet the reverse is sadly also true.

One of the most significant reports on this issue showed the tragic effects of America’s decline in belief.

Deaths of despair: A plague of progress?

A 2023 study in the United States showed a strong relation between the decline in Christianity and the “deaths of despair,” such as suicides, and those resulting from drugs and alcohol:

In recent decades, death rates from poisonings, suicides, and alcoholic liver disease have dramatically increased in the United States.

The study showed that these ” deaths of despair” began to increase in the early 1990s, saying “that this increase was preceded by a decline in religious participation, and that both trends were driven by middle-aged white Americans.”

The findings drew a direct link between the replacement of religious observance with consumerism.

Using repeals of [Sunday trading] blue laws as a shock to religiosity, we confirm that religious practice has significant effects on these mortality rates. Our findings show that social factors such as organized religion can play an important role in understanding deaths of despair.

The conclusion was stark:

States that experienced larger decreases in religiosity have had the largest gains in the rate of deaths of despair.

The withdrawal from the belief in God was driving people to suicide – well before lockdown came along.

US findings confirm the power of faith

Last month’s study follows similar research conducted by Cambridge academics in the United States, which showed in 2023 that “incidence of a Covid-19 infection significantly worsens mental health – but this negative association is significantly smaller for religious people.” 

The data, taken in February and March 2021, demonstrated that the most religious were over three times less likely to suffer from mental health issues, even with far higher rates of COVID infection”

A key motivation for the paper stems from the following observation: although high-religiosity respondents (or someone in their social network) were 10 percentage points more likely to contract Covid-19 compared to low-religiosity respondents, high-religiosity respondents have better mental health than low-religiosity respondents.

The figures, where a lower score indicates better mental health, put the religious at a mean of 6.40, against one of 20.5 for the general population in the U.S.

This study’s sample was two-thirds Christian, with a fifth of the over 5,000 respondents being Catholics. It showed that those suffering from mental health disorders derived the greatest benefit from religiosity – measured by frequency of prayer, attendance at worship, and the degree of involvement in religious practices:

[T]he ameliorating benefits of religiosity in dealing with the mental health fallout [of COVID and lockdowns] are more significant for people with more severe mental health scores.

Yet the benefits of religious belief were significantly diminished where lockdowns prevented attendance at places of worship:

[I]f a respondent displayed high religious attendance in the past, this helped them to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 on their mental health… The results are quite stark – being more religious has significant beneficial effects on mental health only when [lockdown] strictness is relatively low. On the contrary, higher lockdown strictness eroded any benefits that emanated from being religious.

Following the science – into policy?

The 2023 study concluded with a suggestion towards policymakers to look again the role of religion in society:

We consider our findings to be important when designing effective public policies which concern individuals’ mental health and well-being.

A rational society is supposed to balance costs with benefits. It is one which self-declared that its highest mission was to “follow the science,” into the imposition of lockdowns which closed places of worship and were ruinous to mental health, to livelihoods, and to social cohesion. This medicine was prescribed alongside a novel mRNA treatment which some now warn may lead to another man-made epidemic – of brain-wasting “prion disease.”

These studies have emerged alongside the widespread decline in another belief system – that which sought to replace religion with a sort of scientific faith. Where has that led us?

The science now shows the tremendous benefit to individuals and to society of strong religious belief, along with the devastating costs in human life which accompany its decline. Will the belief in science be strong enough to compel its followers to consider the sanest point of view?

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