Clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for a long period of time. Depression often runs in families. Evidence supports that depression has a biologic component strongly linked to abnormalities in the brain. However, research shows that practicing spirituality may help prevent the onset of the illness.
Previous research showed a 90% decreased risk in major depression in adult offspring of depressed individuals who reported that religion or spirituality was extremely important to them. The importance of religion or spirituality, but not frequency of attendance at a house of worship, was associated with thicker cortices in the frontal lobe of the right hemisphere and in the left hemisphere, independent of familial risk. In addition, the effects of importance on cortical thickness were significantly stronger in the high-risk than in the low-risk group, in the same region previously reporting a significant thinner cortex associated with a familial risk of depression. In other words, the brains of those for whom religion or spirituality was important had healthier brains than those who did not find religion or spirituality important.
Thinning of the cortex may affect an individual’s ability to pay attention to and interpret social and emotional cues. Dr. Bradley S. Peterson, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons said,
“If you have thinning in this portion of the brain, it interferes with the processing of emotional stimuli. We think that’s what makes them vulnerable to developing anxiety and depression — it essentially isolates them in an emotional world.”
A thicker cortex associated with a high importance of religion or spirituality may confer resilience to the development of depressive illness in individuals at high risk for major depression.
Regardless of what religion you ascribe to, spirituality in general is linked with greater mental health. If you are not in touch with your spiritual side, this may be good reason to start. Doing so may hold benefits for your mental health.