Objective: The investigators examined the frequency of religious coping among older medical inpatients, the characteristics of those who use it, and the relation between this behavior and depression.
Method: The subjects were 850 men aged 65 years and over, without psychiatric diagnoses, who were consecutively admitted to the medical or neurological services of a southern Veterans Administration medical center. Religious coping was assessed with a three-item index. Depressive symptoms were assessed by self-rating (the Geriatric Depression Scale) and observer rating (the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression).
Results: One out of every five patients reported that religious thought and/or activity was the most important strategy used to cope with illness. Variables that were associated with religious coping included black race, older age, being retired, religious affiliation, high level of social support, infrequent alcohol use, a prior history of psychiatric problems, and higher cognitive functioning. Depressive symptoms were inversely related to religious coping, an association which persisted after other sociodemographic and health correlates were controlled. When 202 men were reevaluated during their subsequent hospital admissions an average of 6 months later, religious coping was the only baseline variable that predicted lower depression scores at follow-up.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that religious coping is a common behavior that is inversely related to depression in hospitalized elderly men.