Students who are actively religious are less likely to suffer from depression and engage in risky behavior like drinking alcohol, according to a study recently released at UCLA.
The study by the Higher Education Research Institute surveyed students at 46 colleges and universities and found that students who did not regularly attend religious services were more than twice as likely to report suffering from depression or poor emotional well-being.
It also found that there were both positive and negative aspects to spirituality in students. Spirituality was found to be connected to higher self-esteem, but it was also found to correlate. There is not a 100 percent overlap,” Astin said.
She said the institute has attracted interest on UCLA’s campus about the issues in the study.
“We’re finding that students are very much interested in these issues. It’s not something that’s being discussed or facilitated on campus,” Astin said.
Jon Hurst, a staff intern with Campus Crusade for Christ and a UCLA alumnus, said he was not surprised by the study’s findings but said his initial reaction was one of caution.
“I wouldn’t want the study to be interpreted the wrong way, that if you are Christian or if you are spiritual, you won’t have trouble with depression. I know Christians who do struggle with that,” Hurst said.
The fact that there was a higher degree of psychological distress associated with students who were spiritual was not unexpected to David Lazar, a second-year student and vice chairman of the campus group LOGIC, which stands for Liberty, Objectivity, Greed, Individualism and Capitalism.
Lazar said spiritual students “experience existential angst when they allow themselves to think critically” about their faith.
Andy Green, president of the Jewish Student Union, also said that he was not surprised by the findings regarding spiritual distress.
“Those things that you value are those that you question,” Green said.
“I strongly believe that spirituality does add to a person’s well-being, and health and stability. It generally offers something that’s not tangible, a belief that there’s something more than you,” he added.
For Usman Shakeel, a fifth-year economics student and member of the Muslim Students Association, the study helped to illustrate the communal nature of on-campus religious organizations.
“Religious communities on campus provide a network and support system that students often use to help them grow in their respective faith,” Shakeel said.
Mohamad Ahmad, a third-year economics and international development studies student, added, “Depression is tied to a lack of hope, and religion can provide that (hope).”
The study also found that students in the fine arts and humanities were more likely to be spiritual than those in the sciences and mathematics, and that religious students were less likely to take part in risky behavior.
Also, only nine percent of highly religious students reported consuming beer “frequently,” as opposed to 41 percent of non-religious students.
The findings are a part of a larger study on spirituality and higher education being funded through the institute by the John Templeton Foundation.
For more information, visit the study’s Web site at spirituality.ucla.edu.