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Religion and the risk of suicide: longitudinal study of over 1 million people

  • Dermot O'Reilly (a1) and Michael Rosato (a2)
Abstract
Background

Durkheim's seminal historical study demonstrated that religious affiliation reduces suicide risk, but it is unclear whether this protective effect persists in modern, more secular societies.

Aims

To examine suicide risk according to Christian religious affiliation and by inference to examine underlying mechanisms for suicide risk. If church attendance is important, risk should be lowest for Roman Catholics and highest for those with no religion; if religiosity is important, then ‘conservative’ Christians should fare best.

Method

A 9-year study followed 1 106 104 people aged 16–74 years at the 2001 UK census, using Cox proportional hazards models adjusted for census-based cohort attributes.

Results

In fully adjusted models analysing 1119 cases of suicide, Roman Catholics, Protestants and those professing no religion recorded similar risks. The risk associated with conservative Christians was lower than that for Catholics (HR = 0.71, 95% CI 0.52–0.97).

Conclusions

The relationship between religious affiliation and suicide established by Durkheim may not pertain in societies where suicide rates are highest at younger ages. Risks are similar for those with and without a religious affiliation, and Catholics (who traditionally are characterised by higher levels of church attendance) do not demonstrate lower risk of suicide. However, religious affiliation is a poor measure of religiosity, except for a small group of conservative Christians, although their lower risk of suicide may be attributable to factors such as lower risk behaviour and alcohol consumption.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Dermot O'Reilly, Health and Social Care Research Unit, Mulhouse Building, Royal Group of Hospitals, Grosvenor Road, Belfast BT12 6BJ, UK. Email: d.oreilly@qub.ac.uk
Footnotes
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Declaration of interest

None.

Footnotes
References
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  • EISSN: 1472-1465
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O'Reilly and Rosato supplementary material
Supplementary Table S1

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Religion and the risk of suicide: longitudinal study of over 1 million people

  • Dermot O'Reilly (a1) and Michael Rosato (a2)
Submit a response

eLetters

A Low Suicide in Conservative Christians

Takeshi Terao, Professor, Department of Neuropsychiatry, Oita University Faculty of Medicine
11 August 2015

Professors O’Reilly and Rosato1showed thatRoman Catholics, Protestants and those professing no religion recorded similar risks of suicide, but the risk associated with conservative Christians was lower than that for Catholics, which is unlikely to be due to church attendance per se as their levels of attendance are generally lower than those of Catholics. These are very interesting findings for our Japanese who have high suicide rate and less religiosity in the world.

They pointed out that there are now increasing numbers of people who, despite having rejected institutionalised religion, have not rejected belief in a deity – a philosophy of ‘believing without belonging’,blurring the differences in religiosity between those affiliated and those non-affiliated1. However, they attributeda lower suicide risk of conservative Christians to factors such as lower risk behaviour and alcohol consumption derived from a wide array of positive individual and societal effects1.

I wonder why they did not mainly attribute a lower suicide risk of conservative Christians to their close relationship with God in their conclusion. Is a lower suicide rate associated with a relationship with human or God?

References

1.O’Reilly D, Rosato M. Religion and the risk of suicide: longitudinal study of over 1 million people. Br J Psychiatry 2015; 206: 466-470.

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