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A Lonely Search?: Risk for Depression When Spirituality Exceeds Religiosity

Vittengl, Jeffrey, R., PhD

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: May 2018 - Volume 206 - Issue 5 - p 386–389
doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000000815
Brief Reports

This study clarified longitudinal relations of spirituality and religiosity with depression. Spirituality's potential emphasis on internal (e.g., intrapsychic search for meaning) versus religiosity's potential emphasis on external (e.g., engagement in socially-sanctioned belief systems) processes may parallel depression-linked cognitive-behavioral phenomena (e.g., rumination and loneliness) conceptually. Thus, this study tested the hypothesis that greater spirituality than religiosity, separate from the overall level of spirituality and religiosity, predicts longitudinal increases in depression. A national sample of midlife adults completed diagnostic interviews and questionnaires of spiritual and religious intensity up to three times over 18 years. In time-lagged multilevel models, overall spirituality plus religiosity did not predict depression. However, in support of the hypothesis, greater spirituality than religiosity significantly predicted subsequent increases in depressive symptoms and risk for major depressive disorder (odds ratio = 1.34). If replicated, the relative balance of spirituality and religiosity may inform depression assessment and prevention efforts.

Department of Psychology, Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri.

Send reprint requests to Jeffrey R. Vittengl, PhD, Department of Psychology, Truman State University, 100 East Normal Street, Kirksville, MO 63501-4221. E-mail:

Funding: Preparation of the current report was not externally funded. The MIDUS 1 study (Midlife in the United States) was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Midlife Development. The MIDUS 2 and 3 research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging (P01-AG020166) to conduct longitudinal follow-ups of the MIDUS 1 investigation. The content of this report is solely the responsibility of the author and may not represent views of the study funders.

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