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August 10, 2006

Religious Beliefs Can Protect Psychological Well-Being During Stressful Experience

Perceptions of social support and hope help heart surgery patients recover

According to a recent study, faith-based positive religious resources can protect psychological well-being through enhanced hope and perceived social support during stressful experiences, like undergoing cardiac surgery.

These results were presented today at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Although the connection between religiosity and health-related well-being has been studied for years, recent research found that the connection between religion and well-being is more complex than past studies suggested.

Lead author Amy L. Ai, PhD, of the University of Washington and coauthor Crystal Park, PhD, of the University of Connecticut, sought to better understand the mechanisms through which religious coping styles operate by studying the postoperative adjustment of 309 cardiac patients at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

The researchers found that perceived social support and hope contributed to less depression and anxiety for postoperative patients who used positive religious coping styles in their every day lives.

“The contribution of social support to hope suggests that those who perceive more support at this critical moment may feel more hopeful about their recovery,” said Dr. Ai.

Acts of positive religious coping include religious forgiveness, seeking spiritual support, collaborative religious coping (fellowship with others who share the same beliefs), spiritual connection, religious purification and thoughts of religious benevolence.

Furthermore, having negative religious thoughts and struggles may hinder recovery.

Negative coping styles are associated with the inability of patients to protect their psychological well-being against the distress of depression and anxiety that tend to predict poor postoperative recovery in the literature.

This relationship is related to poor mental health at both preoperative and postoperative times, indicating ongoing faith-based struggles. Negative coping patterns consist of spiritual discontent, thoughts of punishing God, insecurity, demonic thoughts, interpersonal religious discontent, religious doubt, and discontented spiritual relations.

“These pathways appear to be key in understanding how religious coping styles may be helpful or harmful to a person’s ability to handle stressful situations. These findings imply that health and mental health professionals should be more attentive to faith factors as inspirational or motivational springboards in some contexts,” said Dr. Ai.

Source: American Psychological Association

Visit the FaithNet site for more information on faith and mental illness

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