Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Religion and Depression among U.S. College Students

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Religion and Depression among U.S. College Students

Article excerpt


Studies show that religious people have lower rates of depression than non-religious people. (1) Most of these studies focus on the U.S. population as a whole, or on specific subgroups such as the elderly. (2) To date, little has been written about how religious affiliation and religious devotion affects depression among the college-age population. This study will analyze data based on a representative sample of U.S. college students to determine whether religious participation is associated with lower rates of depression for this important subgroup.

Religion and Depression

There are three main components that define the relationship between religion and mental health. First, religious participation offers people opportunities for regular social interaction with others who share their beliefs and values. These social networks supply companionship and comfort during stressful times. (3) Second, religion helps people make sense of undesirable life events and conditions, and helps them cope with personal setbacks such as grief and health problems. (4) Third, religion promotes healthy lifestyles. Studies show that religious participation decreases the likelihood that one will abuse alcohol or drugs, two key factors associated with mental health problems. (5) It is thus not surprising that studies indicate that religious people are less likely to be depressed than nonreligious people. (6)

Depression and College Students

Recent research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health shows that depression is becoming more frequent among young adults ages eighteen to twenty-five. This is precisely the time when many in this age group are enrolled in colleges and universities. College students face a variety of stressors that are linked to depression. Many are living away from their homes and parents for the first time. They must also cope with exposure to new people and ideas, issues related to sexuality, and anxiety about life after graduation. Studies show that over ten percent of college students have contemplated suicide, a common manifestation of depression and the second leading killer of the collegeage population. (7) Since there are nearly twelve million students enrolled in American colleges and universities, depression on campus is a serious concern.

While studies indicate that religion is negatively correlated with depression in the general population and in certain subgroups like the elderly, it is not known if religion significantly affects depression among college students. There are, however, several studies of college students that examine how religion affects behaviors that are known correlates of depression. For instance, students who report that religion is important to them consume less alcohol, drugs, and tobacco than those who are not religious. (8) They are also less likely to contemplate suicide. (9) But these behaviors are correlates of depression. How does religion affect students' responses on scales that are used to measure depression itself?

To address this question, the authors of this study analyze a nationally representative sample of undergraduate students in the U.S. to determine the effect of religious affiliation and devotion on levels of depressive symptoms among college students. Based on previous research with other groups, we hypothesize that: (1) students who profess a religious faith will have fewer symptoms of depression than those with no religious affiliation; and, (2) students who describe themselves as more religious will have fewer symptoms of depression than those who are less religious or not religious.


The data for this study is derived from the National College Alcohol Study collected in 1997 by the Harvard School of Public Health. (10) Almost all participants were full-time undergraduate students from 116 four-year institutions across the United States. The study is comprised of 14,521 self-administered surveys. …

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