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The role of religion in suicide prevention 

The role of religion in suicide prevention
The role of religion in suicide prevention

Herman M van Praag

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date: 21 May 2022

In psychiatry, man’s connection with religion and religiosity is underestimated. In the wake of Freud’s The future of an illusion (1975), a wave of atheism inundated psychiatry. Both phenomena were considered to be atavisms: remnants of the past; manifestations of a lack of independence; to be treated, rather than to be cherished. This development disregards the human urge to provide meaning to one’s life through a spiritual dimension, as well as the inclination to search for values that exceed one’s material needs. In this context, religion is central: contrary to Freud, Emile Durkheim states that religion is not only ‘true’, but also ‘real’ (Durkheim 2001). A believer is not stuck in an illusion: their exaltation at the belief of a moral power beyond themselves is quite real to them, these are forces external to the individual and part of society as a whole.

Studies show that if religiosity is experienced as a source of hope and confidence, it reduces the risk of depression in times of mounting stress, facilitates recovery and diminishes suicide risk. Religiosity experienced as a source of guilt and fear probably has the opposite effects. Social bonding and confidence in God are a modus operandi.

The psychiatrist cannot and should not ignore or reject religion, irrespective of personal beliefs. In the interest of the evolution of the practice and for the best of their patients, psychiatrists need to reorient towards matters of spirituality, religion and meaning. Taking into account the present state of the discipline, the data on religion and suicide are relatively scarce.

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