Background There is some evidence that religious attendance and beliefs are associated with positive outcomes for mental health and wellbeing, however there are very few studies using longitudinal data. This is important for older people as depression affects 1 in 5 people over the age of 65. The aim of this study was to investigate the lifetime influences of religion and spirituality on mental health and wellbeing in older age.
Methods Participants were 2,641 study members from the the MRC National Study of Health and Development (1946 British birth cohort) who have completed data on the postal questionnaires at ages 26, 36, 43 and 60–64 (1972, 1982, 1989 and 2009). Mental health and wellbeing were assessed at age 60–64 using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28) and the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing scale respectively. Religious attendance was measured at ages 36, 43 and 60–64 and religious beliefs at age 26 and 36. Regression analysis was conducted on the effect of religious attendance and beliefs on mental health and wellbeing.
Results Regular church attendance (once a month or more) at age 36 and 60–64 was associated with a higher wellbeing score at age 60–64 compared to those who attended less than once a month or never (β = 1.80, (95% CI: 0.86–2.74), p < 0.001 and β = 1.04, (95% CI: 0.14–2.07), p < 0.05 respectively). Participants who reported ‘very strong’ religious beliefs at age 26 had a higher GHQ score at 60–64 compared to those who reported ‘little belief’ (β = 0.72, (95% CI: 0.64–1.38), p < 0.05). Participants who said they had religious beliefs at age 36 had higher GHQ and wellbeing scores at 60–64, compared to those who say they had no religious beliefs at that age (β = 0.38, (95% CI: 0.03–0.34), p < 0.05 and β = 1.07, (95% CI: 0.27–1.86), p < 0.01 respectively). Participants who reported that religion had an effect on their life at age 36 had a higher wellbeing score at 60–64 than those who reported no effect of religion on their lives (β = 1.12, (95% CI: 0.36–1.88), p < 0.01).
Conclusion Religious attendance and religious beliefs were positively associated with improved wellbeing at age 60–64 but was negatively associated with mental health. Future work should investigate possible psychological, social and lifestyle factors which could be involved in the influence of religious attendance and beliefs on mental health and wellbeing.
- Mental health
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