The people in the U.S. are getting less and less religious, according to reports and studies. What happens to those, who leave religion? Some feel free and liberated, while others isolate themselves from the rest of the world, they get anxious, become depressed or even worse – suicidal.
Many people who leave religion behind feel it impacting their health, according to an article in Atlantic.com.
Over 30 percent of U.S. adults over 30 years old and about 20 percent of all Americans don’t identify with any religion, according to a 2012 study by Pew Research – an increase from 15 percent in 2007.
Back in 2010 a research from Pennsylvania State University examined statistics from 1972-2006. The study showed that 20 percent of people who have left religion report being in excellent health, versus 40 percent of people currently part of strict religious groups and 25 percent of people who switched from a strict religion to a more lenient religion. “Strict” in this study was defined as “high-cost sectarian groups that are theologically and culturally exclusive.”
There are also some studies which compare health of people – both religious and non-religious. For example, a 2010 Gallup study showed that non-religious people are more likely to smoke and less likely to eat healthy, or exercise than those who consider themselves to be religious.
A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that religiously unaffiliated depressed inpatients are more likely to display suicidal behaviors than religiously affiliated patients.
Also a 2011 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that people in economically developed societies tend to have similar levels of subjective well-being regardless of religious affiliation.
Any negative experiences after leaving religion, from depression to social isolation, can, in fact, impact your physical health.
According to a study from the Chicago university, isolation can cause health problems such as disrupted sleep, elevated blood pressure, and a 14 percent greater risk of premature death.
Depression can cause fatigue, trouble concentrating, headaches, and digestive disorders, while persistent anxiety can cause muscle tension and difficulty sleeping, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Some people have their health improve as they walk away from religion, because they stop practicing negative health behaviors that may have been tied to their religion. For example, leaving a faith such as Christian Science, which dissuades medical treatment, obviously opens up more opportunities for healthcare intervention.
Social psychologist Dr. Clay Routledge said that other negative health issues sometimes associated with being religious, are cognitive dissonance (consistent religious doubts can harm your health) and avoidant coping. An example of the latter is the attitude that things are “all in God’s hands,” which could potentially keep people from taking action on behalf of their own health.
However, not everyone’s health and well-being improves after leaving a religion. Since for many people, religion means being part of a community, and belief in an afterlife can make death less frightening, leaving that behind can lead to isolation and anxiety.
The article also says that the end of a positive religious experience can lead to a decrease in health, while leaving a negative religious experience may be a way to boost health, especially if someone has a supportive nonreligious community.
Either way, a person’s faith, or lack thereof, is often so important that it affects physical, as well as spiritual, well-being.