People participate in religion because it makes them happy, right? Sure – plenty of studies have indicated a correlation between religious involvement and mental health, suggesting that religious commitment helps people find a sense of community, develop a support network, and weather life’s ups and downs with a sense of perspective. But surprisingly, a new study done at Ohio State University suggests that the soothing effects of religious involvement might actually be reversed for people of certain ages and ethnic groups. While high levels of participation in religious communities were shown to match with higher levels of mental well-being in most U.S. adolescents, the researchers for the study found that highly religiously active Asian-American and Latino youth were more depressed, on average, than other members of their demographic groups.
Two doctoral students in sociology at OSU, Richard Petts and Anne Jolliff, used data gathered for the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to make their conclusions, cross-referencing survey respondents’ ethnicity and gender with their church attendance and emotional well-being. They discovered that, while both white and African-American adolescents endured less depression at higher levels of religious participation, their Latino and Asian-American peers were significantly more likely to experience depression if they attended church at least once a week.
Even more startling, Petts and Jolliff found that Asian-American youth who never attended religious services were the least depressed subset among their peer group. This contradicts the conventional wisdom that irreligious adolescents are at the highest risk for social alienation and mental health problems. Similarly, Latino youth who attended church only once in a while were the least likely among their peer group to be depressed.
The correlation between high levels of religious participation and depression was even greater for Latina adolescents. Females of Hispanic ancestry were significantly more likely than Latino males to suffer from depression if they attended church once a week or more, although attending occasionally was better than never going at all.
The authors of the study suggest that the often-insular nature of Asian-American and Latino cultures in the United States presents a challenge for churchgoing youth, driving a wedge between their religion-centered traditions and the broader American culture. Because of this, the most religiously active youth may have the hardest time adjusting to life outside their church communities. Since white and African-American teenagers do not face such cultural barriers between their churches and the wider society, the authors say, high levels of religious attendance don’t have the same negative effect for these groups.
Read the original article here.