Women who attend religious services at least once a week may have a lower risk of suicide than those who never attend services, according to a study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Tyler VanderWeele, professor of epidemiology, and coauthors analyzed health data from 89,708 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study from 1996 through June 2010. Most of the women were white and Catholic or Protestant.

Compared with women who never attended religious services, women who attended once per week or more had a five times lower risk of committing suicide during the study period, the researchers found.

The authors noted that their study used observational data and did not account for factors such as impulsivity or feelings of hopelessness. In addition, the findings may not be generalizable to other populations.

Suicide is among the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. The major world religions have traditions prohibiting suicide.

“Our results do not imply that health care providers should prescribe attendance at religious services,” they wrote. “However, for patients who are already religious, service attendance might be encouraged as a form of meaningful social participation. Religion and spirituality may be an underappreciated resource that psychiatrists and clinicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate.”

Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: hsph.harvard.edu