Religious Jewish teens are far less
likely to attempt suicide than their secular Jewish
counterparts, a new study finds, bolstering previous studies among
other religious groups that suggest faith may offer some protection
Researchers in Israel found that of the 620 teens
studied, the most religious among them were 45 percent less likely to try to
kill themselves or exhibit suicidal behavior than the less religious.
“We know from working with suicide survivors that
even when they were 99 percent sure they were going to kill themselves, they
still sought hope,” said study co-author Gal Shoval of Tel Aviv University’s
Sackler School of Medicine. “Jewish faith and community may be their most
important source of hope.”
The Israeli study, which will be published in an
upcoming issue of European Psychiatry,
backs previous research, which focused on Christian adults and strongly
suggested that religion protects against suicide, particularly among
women. Those studies also showed that people who demonstrate an “extrinsic”
spirituality—regular church attendance, for example—are less likely to consider
suicide than those whose spirituality is more “intrinsic,” i.e., a
private religious devotion.
Commenting on previous studies, researchers noted
that while devout Christian teens reported feeling less depressed than their
secular peers, Jewish teens’ religiosity was not linked with less depression.
Instead, they found, religiosity “enhanced effective coping mechanisms,”
said study co-author Dr. Ben Amit.
The idea that people of faith are less
likely to want to kill themselves was first put forth by Emile Durkheim, the
founder of sociology, who wrote Suicide
in 1897. In the book, Durkheim explored suicide within a cultural context,
investigated varying suicide rates among Protestants and Catholics, and
concluded that stronger social control within Catholic circles resulted in
lower suicide rates.
Though Israel has a relatively low rate of
suicide in the developed world, suicide is the third most common killer of
American youth ages 15-24, after accidents and murder, according to the
National Institute of Mental Health.