Studies are showing a strong connection between good health and religiosity.
A recent New York Times column by Stanford anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann says that the reason isn't entirely clear why church attendance "boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life."
She speculates that it is the social support of a congregation and the healthy habits of churchgoers.
"Yet I think there may be another factor. Any faith demands that you experience the world as more than just what is material and observable," writes Luhrmann, who has studied and written about evangelical Christians.
In clinical terms, she explains how someone can experience a God they can't see and she observes, "those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier — at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale."
But she warns that the suicide of the son of popular megachurch pastor Rick Warren indicates more research needs to be done to "lower the shame for those who are religious and nonetheless need to reach out for other care."
Believers who do seek medical care for a psychiatric illness will have better outcomes than those who don't believe in God, according to a new study that was reported on in PsychCentral.
“Belief was associated with not only improved psychological well-being, but decreases in depression and intention to self-harm,” says David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., an instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Investigators hope the study will lead to additional investigation on the clinical implications of spiritual life as more than 90 percent of the U.S. population holds religious beliefs, PsychCentral reported.
The Deseret News recently reported on research at Baylor University that found a person's relationship with God had a more direct impact on their mental health than church attendance or even prayer.
"Researchers found that people who believe their troubles are the result of God exacting judgment because of sin have higher levels of anxiety, paranoia and compulsion than those who believe in a caring, engaged God who will help them cope with life's challenges."