Believing in God could lead to better outcomes after psychiatric treatment, a small new study suggests.
The research, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, shows that people who believe in a higher power are more likely to fare better after being treated for a psychiatric disorder.
"Given the prevalence of religious belief in the United States -- over 90 [percent] of the population -- these findings are important in that they highlight the clinical implications of spiritual life," study researcher David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., who is an instructor in the Harvard Medical School's psychiatric department and a clinician at McLean hospital, said in a statement. "I hope that this work will lead to larger studies and increased funding in order to help as many people as possible."
The study included 159 people who were in a day-treatment program at McLean Hospital, who had an average age of 33. About 60 percent of them had been diagnosed with depression, about 12 percent had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the others were diagnosed with disorders including anxiety disorders.
Researchers asked the study participants about the level of their belief in God -- gauged as having "no," "slight," "moderate" or "high" beliefs -- at the beginning of their treatment, as well as their depression, well-being and self-harm levels at the beginning and end of their treatment.
They found that people who said they believed in God had better chances of responding to their psychiatric treatment, compared with non-believers. Specifically, people who said they had "no" or "slight" belief in God had a doubled risk of not responding to their treatment.
Plus, researchers found that even those who believed in God but weren't religiously affiliated -- which constituted more than 30 percent of the people in the study -- still experienced the positive treatment outcomes.
"As a whole these findings suggest that belief in God is associated with improved treatment outcomes in psychiatric care," the researchers wrote in the study. "More centrally, our results suggest that belief in the credibility of psychiatric treatment and increased expectations to gain from treatment might be mechanisms by which belief in God can impact treatment outcomes."
Similarly, a University of Missouri study from last year showed that being spiritual is associated with better health, regardless of whether you actually ascribe to a particular religion.
"With increased spirituality people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe," the researcher of that study, Dan Cohen, said in a statement.