Menu JTA Search

New Study Links Depression to Religious Observance Level

Jewish elderly are twice as likely to show signs of depression than Catholics, according to a recently released study.

The study by Dr. Gary Kennedy, a professor of psychiatry at from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, concluded that religious preference and attendance are linked to depression.

Less than 10 percent of Catholics showed signs of depression compared with 20 percent of Jews and 12 percent of others, mostly Protestant.

Of the Jewish sample, depression among those who emigrated from Russia and Poland reached as high as 30 percent.

The study was conducted in the demographically diverse Norwood section of the Bronx, N.Y., among 1,855 randomly selected Medicare recipients who expressed religious preference. Some 30 percent of the sample was Jewish.

Almost 75 percent of Catholics surveyed said they attended religious services, compared with 20 percent of Jews and 38 percent of others.

“Failure to attend religious services predicted depression among the Catholics, not the Jewish sample,” said Kennedy.

Catholics regard service attendance as a “moral imperative” more than Jews and many Jews will only attend the local synagogue if it serves their denomination — Reform, Conservative or Orthodox, the study stated.

The trauma of the Holocaust may also contribute to the higher level of depressive symptoms in Jews, because many of the elderly are of Eastern European background, the study added.

The results were similar to an Israeli study in the late 1980s that found that 40 percent of the 65-and-older population had depressive symptoms. “This is not an idiosyncratic finding,” said Kennedy.

While preference and attendance alone cannot measure the effect of religious experience, the researchers concluded that religious institutions should take a more prominent role in serving their elderly population. Institutions may help combat late-life suicide, the study added.

NEXT STORY