Objective: The role of religion in mental illness remains understudied. Most prior investigations of this relationship have used measures of religiosity that do not reflect its complexity and/or have examined a small number of psychiatric outcomes. This study used data from a general population sample to clarify the dimensions of religiosity and the relationships of these dimensions to risk for lifetime psychiatric and substance use disorders.
Method: Responses to 78 items assessing various aspects of broadly defined religiosity were obtained from 2,616 male and female twins from a general population registry. The association between the resulting religiosity dimensions and the lifetime risk for nine disorders assessed at personal interview was evaluated by logistic regression. Of these disorders, five were "internalizing" (major depression, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and bulimia nervosa), and four were "externalizing" (nicotine dependence, alcohol dependence, drug abuse or dependence, and adult antisocial behavior).
Results: Seven factors were identified: general religiosity, social religiosity, involved God, forgiveness, God as judge, unvengefulness, and thankfulness. Two factors were associated with reduced risk for both internalizing and externalizing disorders (social religiosity and thankfulness), four factors with reduced risk for externalizing disorders only (general religiosity, involved God, forgiveness, and God as judge), and one factor with reduced risk for internalizing disorders only (unvengefulness).
Conclusions: Religiosity is a complex, multidimensional construct with substantial associations with lifetime psychopathology. Some dimensions of religiosity are related to reduced risk specifically for internalizing disorders, and others to reduced risk specifically for externalizing disorders, while still others are less specific in their associations. These results do not address the nature of the causal link between religiosity and risk for illness.