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Reducing Suicide: A National Imperative
dogma. This conclusion is further supported by evidence that indicates that in the “historical hubs” of religions (e.g., Lutherans in the Midwest, Jews in the Northeast), the protective effects of religious affiliation are stronger. Conversely, where religious adherents are located outside of these places, the effect of affiliation on suicide (e.g., Jews and Catholics in the South) may produce more suicides. It has been suggested that it is precisely in those places where religions have constructed institutions of assistance and informal communities of support that religion’s protective effects are strongest (Pescosolido, 1990).
Studies at the individual level of assessment further explicate the role of religion in reducing risk of suicide. Maris (1981) compared suicide rates among Catholics and Protestants in Chicago between 1966 and 1968. He found that for all age groups and across both sexes, the suicide rate for Protestants was greater than the suicide rate for Catholics. Immigrants to the United States who identified as Catholic report significantly lower lifetime rates of suicide ideation (3.7% vs. 11.8%) and suicide attempts (1.6% vs. 2.6%) than non-Catholic immigrants. Scores on church attendance, perception of religiosity, and influence of religion were negatively associated with suicidal ideation. When sex, marital status, and socioeconomic status were factored in, the perceived influence of the religion item was the strongest significant independent predictor of suicidal ideation. Those individuals who perceived religion to be influential in their lives reported less suicidal ideation, and those individuals who attended church more often reported less suicidal ideation. These findings yielded no support for the notion that affiliation with Catholicsm shows less suicide risk than with other religions, as church attendance rather than religious affiliation accounted for most of the variation in suicide attitudes. These findings do, however, lend support to the notion that religiosity plays a protective role against suicide. Although most studies of religion and suicide have focused on adult samples, some have found that church attendance among youths of various ethnic/racial backgrounds reduces suicide risk, including suicide attempts (Conrad, 1991; Kirmayer et al., 1998; 1996). A large meta-analysis of U.S. adolescent data that controlled for sociodemographic variables indicates that religiousness decreases risk of suicide ideation and attempts in youths (Donahue, 1995).
Actively religious North Americans are much less likely than nonreligious people to abuse drugs and alcohol (associated with suicide), to divorce (associated with suicide), and to complete suicide (Batson et al., 1993; Colasanto and Shriver, 1989). Stack and Lester (1991) found that those individuals who attended church more often reported less approval