Psychological Medicine

Religion as a cross-cultural determinant of depression in elderly Europeans: results from the EURODEP collaboration

A. W.  BRAAM  c1 a1, P.  VAN DEN EEDEN  a1, M. J.  PRINCE  a1, A. T. F.  BEEKMAN  a1, S.-L.  KIVELÄ  a1, B. A.  LAWLOR  a1, A.  BIRKHOFER  a1, R.  FUHRER  a1, A.  LOBO  a1, H.  MAGNUSSON  a1, A. H.  MANN  a1, I.  MELLER  a1, M.  ROELANDS  a1, I.  SKOOG  a1, C.  TURRINA  a1 and J. R. M.  COPELAND  a1
a1 From the Department of Psychiatry and Department of Social Science Methodology, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Section of Epidemiology and General Practice, Institute of Psychiatry and Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London and Department of Psychiatry, Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Liverpool; Unit of General Practice, Oulu University Hospital, Oulu, Finland; Department of Psychiatry, Jonathan Swift Clinic, St James's Hospital, Dublin, Republic of Ireland; Department of Psychiatry, University of Munich and Psychiatrische Klinik und Poliklinik der Freie Universität Berlin, Germany; Servicio de Psicosomática, Hospital Clínico Universitario, Zaragoza, Spain; Heilsugœslustö, Grundarfiri, Iceland; Research Group Health and Behaviour, University of Gent, Belgium; Institute of Clinical Neurosciences, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Göteborg University, Sweden; and Clinica Psichiatrica, Ospedale Civile, Brescia, Italy


Background. The protective effects of religion against late life depression may depend on the broader sociocultural environment. This paper examines whether the prevailing religious climate is related to cross-cultural differences of depression in elderly Europeans.

Methods. Two approaches were employed, using data from the EURODEP collaboration. First, associations were studied between church-attendance, religious denomination and depression at the syndrome level for six EURODEP study centres (five countries, N = 8398). Secondly, ecological associations were computed by multi-level analysis between national estimates of religious climate, derived from the European Value Survey and depressive symptoms, for the pooled dataset of 13 EURODEP study centres (11 countries, N = 17739).

Results. In the first study, depression rates were lower among regular church-attenders, most prominently among Roman Catholics. In the second study, fewer depressive symptoms were found among the female elderly in countries, generally Roman Catholic, with high rates of regular church-attendance. Higher levels of depressive symptoms were found among the male elderly in Protestant countries.

Conclusions. Religious practice is associated with less depression in elderly Europeans, both on the individual and the national level. Religious practice, especially when it is embedded within a traditional value-orientation, may facilitate coping with adversity in later life.

c1 Address for correspondence: Dr A. W. Braam, Department of Psychiatry, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Valeriusplein 7–9, 1075 BG Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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