Religious Jewish teenagers are far less likely to attempt suicide than their nonreligious peers, according to a new study out of Israel.
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, researchers interviewed 620 Jewish Israelis between the ages of 14 and 17, asking them to characterize their level of religiosity as either “secular,” “observant” or “ultra-Orthodox.” They found that the most religious teens interviewed were 45 percent less likely to exhibit suicidal thoughts and act out on them than those who defined themselves as less religious.
The study, conducted by Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine and the Clalit Health Service, reflects past research on the protective effects of faith on mental health.
The new study differs from past research on Christian teenagers, who on average have been found to be less depressed than nonreligious Christians. Among the Jewish teens, there were still high levels of depression, but they were less likely to be channeled into suicidal thoughts.
“Using statistical tools, we demonstrated that the protective effect of the practice of Judaism was not associated with a decreased risk of depression,” said Dr. Ben Amit, one of the study’s co-authors, according to JTA. “Instead, it enhanced effective coping mechanisms.”
Study co-author Gal Shoval of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine told the Washington Post: “We know from working with suicide survivors that even when they were 99 percent sure they were going to kill themselves, they still sought hope.”
“Jewish faith and community may be their most important source of hope,” Shoval added.
Study co-authors Dr. Gal Shoval and Dr. Ben Amit claim that theirs is the first study that examines the relationship between Jewish religiosity and self-injurious thoughts and behaviors in adolescents.
The researchers attributed their results in part to Judaism’s spiritual and communal support, as well as its prohibition against suicide. They see their findings as having important clinical implications regarding risk assessment and suicide prevention.
Past studies have shown that active practice of faith also has a protective effect against suicide. A 2009 Canadian study asserted that people who attend church regularly are less likely to attempt suicide. A University of California study in 2011 also examined the issue and found that church membership reduced the likelihood of suicide.
The Israeli study was published in European Psychology.
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