PROBLEM: Although both modern psychiatry and organized religion (or other forms of spirituality) are seen as places to turn during times of mental or emotional turmoil, we know surprisingly little about the overlap between the two, including if and how faith might help people overcome mental illnesses.
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METHODOLOGY: At McLean hospital, a psychiatric institution affiliated with Harvard Medical School, researchers approached 159 patients in a common room and asked them how strongly they believed in a god. Their faith quantified on a five-point scale, they were also asked how credible they thought their treatment was and effective they believed it would be in relieving their symptoms.
All of the patients in the sample had prominent symptoms of depression. The researchers assessed their symptoms when they were admitted and again when they were released.
RESULTS: Seventy-one percent of the participants reported that they at least "fairly" believed in a god or a higher power. Strong belief was associated with better outcomes over the course of treatment: the lessening of depression, reductions in self-harm, and increases in what they called psychological well-being -- things like peace of mind, ability to have fun, and satisfaction with life. This association wasn't affected by which god patients believed in, or whether they were affiliated with a specific religion (or any religion at all).