Private prayer associations with depression, anxiety and other health conditions: an analytical review of clinical studies

Postgrad Med. 2016 Sep;128(7):635-41. doi: 10.1080/00325481.2016.1209962. Epub 2016 Jul 22.


Objectives: To critically analyze appropriate clinical studies to assess the relationship between health conditions and the frequency of private prayer. Private prayer is defined as individuals praying for themselves.

Methods: Using PubMed and other search engines, we identified over 300 articles reporting relationships between prayer and health conditions. We identified 41 observational clinical studies that evaluated the relationship between private prayer and health conditions. Prayer scores of 5 to 1 were assigned to studies, with 5 being private prayer for health and 1 being prayer in combination with meditation or Bible study. Frequency scores ranged from 3 to 1 with 3 being twice daily or more and 0 when frequency was not assessed. Studies were ranked from 8 to 1 based on the sum of Prayer and Frequency Scores.

Results: Twenty-one studies had Prayer-Frequency scores of 5 to 8, indicating that they evaluated private prayer (praying for one's own health) of suitable frequency in association with health conditions. Nine of 11 studies indicated that private prayer was associated with a significantly lower prevalence of depression (P value, <0.01). Optimism as well as coping were significantly improved by prayer in four studies (P value, P < 0.01). In 10 studies of mental health conditions-including anxiety and confusion-there was a significant benefit associated with prayer (P < 0.01), In the reviewed studies, prayer did not have a significant effect on physical health or blood pressure.

Conclusion: The reported observational studies suggest that frequent private prayer is associated with a significant benefit for depression, optimism, coping, and other mental health conditions such as anxiety. Controlled clinical trials are required to critically assess the associations of private prayer and health conditions.

Keywords: Private prayer; anxiety; depression; health; optimism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Anxiety* / diagnosis
  • Anxiety* / psychology
  • Depression* / diagnosis
  • Depression* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Protective Factors
  • Religion*
  • Spirituality
  • Statistics as Topic