While sitting down this beautiful Friday to write my blog post on socioeconomic health gradients, I was at a loss of what to write about. Obamacare? Done. Exercise? Done. Oil? Check. President-elect Trump? Yup. I knew there was more to write about, but I just couldn’t think of anything. And then God sent me a sign… or rather… my mom sent me a sign about god.
After replying that I did not yet find a church to go to, I started researching if religion could have some divine connection to the health gradient. I found that those who go to church tend to have longer lives than those who don’t! This probably isn’t a miracle by divine intervention but another symptom of the health gradient caused by stress. I speculated that those who attend church regularly may have less chronic stress because of a faith in a higher power controlling and taking care of their lives. Furthermore, it seems to be dependent on whether you believe that God is forgiving rather than angry with the world.
One meta-analysis of all studies on religion and health revealed two startling relationships. One is that those who participate in strict religions, like Mormons, tend to have lower rates of mortality than other religions. Mormons: 1. Everyone else: 0. Another relationship found was that those who have greater participation within their religious community tend to have better health. Both of these findings seem to exist even when controlling for other factors like age, preexisting conditions, etc. Another study finds that religiousness tends to be a great protective factor in the elderly, for some reasons especially African American elderly, from negative physical and mental health symptoms.
Because of these discoveries, there have been a few recommendations in order to benefit from this religion-health relationship. Firstly, they recommend that physicians try to incorporate religion when appropriate for their patients in order to help the physician and patient have a discussion. This is to try and thwart off any differences in power and knowledge that may have intimidated the patient. They also recommend that physicians encourage the patient to participate in religious activities because it could have some benefit to their mental and physical health. Because of this, they similarly suggest that physicians always maintain respect for the religion and beliefs of the patient. Without this, the benefits that can be reaped from the religion-health relationship are lost.
I was shocked to realize that religion could really have an impact on someone’s health and even the community at large. I was always under the impression that I was never a religious person, and I probably never will be. But with my own future goals of becoming a physician, I am undoubtedly going to encounter those people that can be motivated by their faith. Instead of writing off religion as something to be left outside the hospital, perhaps more doctors can learn to use it as a tool in helping people recover. In the hospital I volunteer at, California Hospital Medical Center, they have an on-site chaplain that helps patients and their families cope with their situation. I think I finally understand the importance of this service.