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Religious commitment linked to less suicide

Young Mormon men living in Utah who closely adhere to the dictates of their faith are less likely to commit suicide than their peers who are less active in the church, study findings show.

For more than 10 years, 15- to 34-year-old males in Utah have had suicide rates markedly higher than those across the US.

"These results provide evidence that a low level of religious commitment is a potential risk factor for suicide," Dr Sterling C. Hilton of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and his colleagues write in the 1 March issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Hilton and his colleagues investigated the relationship between suicide and religiosity in an analysis of 1991-1995 state death records from the Utah State Department of Health, as well as data from the LDS church and the US Census Bureau.

One potential reason for the association between lower suicide risk and high levels of religiosity may be the fact that some religions forbid substance abuse or other harmful behaviors that may be associated with suicide, the researchers speculate.

In addition, they suggest, the social structure and support provided by many religions may reduce feelings of isolation and help individuals who are suffering bouts of depression, thereby acting as a suicide prevention measure.

Lastly, the high value placed on life by many religions may also be an indirect method of suicide prevention, since individuals who are strongly committed to their faith may have a greater desire to live.

"Since the possible explanations (given)...for the observed association are not unique to the LDS church, I believe that these findings are most likely generalisable to other religions," Hilton said.


American Journal of Epidemiology



11 Mar 2002