Religious activities and suicide prevention: A gender specific analysis
The present analysis contributes to the existing literature on religion and suicide in three interrelated ways: (1) providing an analysis of suicide completions whereas most research is based on non-lethal levels of suicidality; (2) assessing the relationship with concrete individual level data on completed suicides instead of aggregated data marked by the ecological fallacy issue; and (3) providing gender specific analyses to determine if the relationship is gendered. METHODS. Data come from the U.S. Public Health Service, National Mortality Followback Survey. They refer to 16,795 deaths including 1385 suicides. Significant others of the deceased were interviewed to measure all variables. The dependent variable is a binary variable where 1 = death by suicide and 0 = all other causes. The central independent variable is an index of religious activities. Controls are included for five categories of confounders (1) psychiatric morbidity; (2) help-seeking behavior; (3) Opportunity factors such as firearms; (4) social integration; and (5) demographics. RESULTS. Multivariate logistic regression analysis determined that controlling for 16 predictors of suicide, a one unit increase in religious activities reduced the odds of a suicide death by 17% for males and by 15% for females. The difference in coefficients is not significant (Z = 0.51). Other significant predictors of suicide deaths included suicide ideation (OR = 8.87, males, OR = 11.48, females) and firearm availability (OR = 4.21, males, OR = 2.83, females). DISCUSSION. Religious activities were found to lower suicide risk equally for both men and women. Further work is needed to assess pathways, including suicide ideation, between religious activities and lowered suicide risk. This is the first U.S. based study to test for a gendered association between religion and suicide at the individual level of analysis.