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Baylor College of Medicine

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Religious coping’s impact on older adults with depression

Homa Shalchi


Houston, TX -

People use different coping mechanisms to deal with depression, and many use religion to handle depressive symptoms. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas at Austin studied the effects of religious coping and its correlation with the treatment of psychotherapeutic depression in older adults. Their findings were recently published in Aging and Mental Health

“There are some in the religious community who place more of a negative stigma on mental illness and mental health treatment. We wanted to see whether somebody’s religious coping affected their willingness and satisfaction with therapy and whether it affected their outcome,” said Dr. Mark Kunik, professor of psychiatry research at Baylor.

Researchers studied 277 impoverished, homebound older adults with depression. Participants self-reported their religious coping mechanisms on a coping scale and were divided into three groups. Two of the groups received different types of depression treatment videos:

  • Behavioral therapy: a brief, structured therapy that aims to increase and reinforce healthy behavior, such as engaging in meaningful life activities aligned with personal values and beliefs.
  • Problem solving therapy: a brief, structured, cognitive-behavioral treatment that teaches patients problem-solving coping skills to help them deal with major negative life events, as well as daily problems that are making them depressed.

A third group of participants were part of the attention control group, which provided telephone call check-ins instead of video therapy.

According to Kunik, preliminary findings of the study showed religion’s positive effects on patients undergoing video therapy. Those that use religion to cope with depression, such as through prayer and meditation, experience better mental, physical and cognitive health.

The study also found that religious coping was more common among women and African-Americans.

These findings can inform homebound and other older adults who suffer from depression and are reluctant to seek psychotherapy as well as aging service providers who work with them.

Other contributors to this work include Namkee G. Choi, John E. Sullivan and C. Nathan Marti. This work was supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (under grant 1R01MD009675; PI: N. Choi). St. David’s Foundation also provided supplemental grant.

To speak with Kunik, please contact Homa Shalchi at shalchi@bcm.edu or 713-798-4710.

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