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Women Who Stay Religious Less Likely to Have Anxiety Disorder

But study also shows men who practice faith less in adulthood more likely to avoid depression

TUESDAY, Jan. 1, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Women who stop being religiously active are three times more likely to suffer generalized anxiety disorder than women who have always been religiously active, researchers report.

In contrast, the researchers found that men who stopped being religiously active were less likely to suffer major depression compared with men who had always been religiously active.

"One's lifetime pattern of religious service attendance can be related to psychiatric illness," study co-author Joanna Maselko said in a prepared statement. She is an assistant professor of public health at Temple University.

Maselko and her team analyzed data from 718 adults who shared details of their religious activity in youth and adulthood. They found that a majority of the respondents changed their level of religious activity between childhood and adulthood. The data is published in the January issue of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

According to Maselko, the gender differences in the relationship between religious participation and mental health may be tied to social networks. Women are more likely to build them through their religious activities, and then to feel the loss of those networks when they stop attending church, she explained.

Slightly more than one-third of the women reported always being religiously active. Half said they had not been active since childhood. About 7 percent of the women who were always religiously active could be categorized as having generalized anxiety disorder, compared with 21 percent of those who had ended their religious activities.

People with generalized anxiety disorder experience worries and concerns out of proportion to their daily lives, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The disorder is diagnosed if the worries do not abate after six months. About 6.8 million Americans suffer from the disorder, which can seriously interfere with sleep and relaxation. Women are two times more likely to suffer from anxiety disorder than men.

"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 said.

More information

For more on spirituality and health, go to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

SOURCE: Temple University, news release, Jan. 1, 2008
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