Studies on the connection between religion and suicide have led to mixed results. Some studies indicated higher levels of suicidality, no relation or reduced risk. Many of the studies that indicated a relationship (either positive or negative), had mediators attached – such as that individuals who were more religious were less likely to attempt suicide as long as they lacked other social supports.
Religiosity and Suicide
Meta-reviews, large scale analyses of suicide risk have helped shed some evidence on the connection between religion and suicide.
Lawrence, Oquendo & Stanley (2016) noted that suicide and religion are both complex dimensions (e.g. suicide ideation versus attempts versus death, religious affiliation versus attendance.) Being part of a majority religious community was found to be a greater protective factor against suicide than a minority community, but that attending religious services was not as important as having social supports (whether religious or not.)
Norko et. al. (2017) noted that all major faith communities (including Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity) have strong objections to suicide.
In Lawrence et. al. (2016) a sample of clinically depressed patients in a hospital setting were found to have a higher rate of suicidality if they identified a religious affiliation, the more they attended religious services, and the more they indicated religion was important.
Finally, Wu, Wang & Jia (2015), analyzing over 5000 participants across several large studies identified the three elements that are responsible for the protective factor of suicide: being of a western culture, being older, and living in a area with religious homogeneity.
Spirituality and Suicide
Spirituality can be examined through a lens different from organized religion. While religion may entail specific doctrine, spirituality instead examines one’s relationship with “self, others and ‘God’” (Mandhoui, et. al., 2016), in whatever form that takes.
Mandhoui et. al. (2016) surveyed individuals who were in hospital for suicide attempts. Those individuals lower in spirituality were more likely to attempt suicide at 18 months, with “value of life” tending to reduce the chance that someone re-attempts.
Amato, et. al. (2016) noted that spirituality can be integrated into suicide prevention programs such as case management, therapy and suicide assessment to determine the impact for that individual. They summarize the impact of spirituality by noting that “some individuals at high risk of suicide may find fellowship in an affirming community of faith; others may be helped by rituals that confer atonement or a state of exaltation; still others may learn, through mindfulness meditation, to suspend their inclination to judge themselves harshly.”
Specific Religions / Denominations and Suicide
Buddhism and Suicide
Buddhism has received some exploration in the scientific literature, especially in light of Buddhist monks who have self-immolated for political reasons, the most famous of whom was Thích Quảng Đức in 1963, but research on the exact suicide rate, especially when considered with other religions is lacking.
Lizardi & Gearing (2010) noted several elements that may decrease suicide in Buddhist individuals, including that the largest communities of Buddhists (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) have lower suicide rates than whites (who tend to belong to different religious communities) and a strong aversion to killing. In contrast, a belief in reincarnation and life-after-death may contribute to an increase in the suicide rate among specific individuals who adhere strongly to Buddhist traditions.
Catholicism / Protestantism and Suicide
Emile Durkheim in his 1897 work Suicide examined the suicide rates among Catholics and Protestants. He found that Catholics had much lower rates of suicide than Protestants and theorized that it was the result of social support provided in the Catholic community. Additional support was confirmed by Torgler & Schaltegger (2014) and Siegrist (1996) in a modern sample, who also found that church attendance reduced suicide.
Hinduism / Islam and Suicide
Ineichen (1998) examined a number of studies on Hinduism and Islam and consistently found that Muslims had much lower suicide rates than Hindus, focused on a variety of South Asian diaspora (such as individuals in the United Kingdom from other countries.)
Following up on this research, Thimmaiah et. al. (2016) explored a population of Muslims and Hindus in India and found that , while Muslims indicated more negative attitudes towards suicide which may help explain why they are less likely to attempt suicide.
Judaism and Suicide
Examining Jewish Israelis, Eliezer & Daniel (2012) found a rate of suicide lower in Jewish individuals than those who are Catholic or Protestant. Significantly, those with other risk factors for suicide (like veterans, immigrants or those who have experienced trauma) are at elevated at risk of suicide despite their religiosity.
After a review of the literature, it emerges that religious denominations and other factors can have an influence on suicide. Some religions have higher rates of suicide, and some have lower rates, which may be explained by the value system of those religions or the social support of those religions.
The suicide risk by religion, from highest to lowest is below:
- Protestant Christian
- Catholic Christian
Other religions with less well established data sets can be compared to each other, but not necessarily to other religions: Islam has a lower level of suicide than Hinduism, while Buddhism has a lower level of suicide than Native American spirituality.
Amato, J. J., Kayman, D. J., Lombardo, M., & Goldstein, M. F. (2016). Spirituality and religion: Neglected factors in preventing veteran suicide?. Pastoral Psychology, doi:10.1007/s11089-016-0747-8
Dyson, J., Cobb, M., Forman, D. (1997) The meaning of spirituality: a literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 26(6). Retrieved on March 3, 2017 from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2648.1997.00446.x/abstract doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.1997.00446.x
Durkheim, E. (1897). Le suicide: étude de sociologie. F. Alcan: Chicago, IL.
Eliezer, W., & Daniel, S. (2012). Suicide in Judaism with a Special Emphasis on Modern Israel. Religions, Vol 3, Iss 3, Pp 725-738 (2012), (3), 725. doi:10.3390/rel3030725
Ineichen, B. (1998). The influence of religion on the suicide rate: Islam and Hinduism compared. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 1(1), 31.
Lawrence, R. E., Brent, D., Mann, J. J., Burke, A. K., Grunebaum, M. F., Galfalvy, H. C., & Oquendo, M. A. (2016). Religion as a risk factor for suicide attempt and suicide ideation among depressed patients. Journal Of Nervous And Mental Disease, 204(11), 845-850. doi:10.1097/NMD.0000000000000484
Lawrence, R. E., Oquendo, M. A., & Stanley, B. (2016). Religion and suicide risk: A systematic review. Archives Of Suicide Research, 20(1), 1-21. doi:10.1080/13811118.2015.1004494
Mandhouj, O., Perroud, N., Hasler, R., Younes, N., & Huguelet, P. (2016). Characteristics of spirituality and religion among suicide attempters. Journal Of Nervous And Mental Disease, 204(11), 861-867. doi:10.1097/NMD.0000000000000497
Norko, M. A., Freeman, D., Phillips, J., Hunter, W., Lewis, R., & Viswanathan, R. (2017). Can Religion Protect Against Suicide?. Journal Of Nervous & Mental Disease, 205(1), 9-14. doi:10.1097/NMD.0000000000000615
Siegrist, M. (1996). Church Attendance, Denomination, and Suicide Ideology. Journal Of Social Psychology, 136(5), 559-566.
Thimmaiah, R., Poreddi, V., Ramu, R., Selvi, S., & Math, S. (2016). Influence of Religion on Attitude Towards Suicide: An Indian Perspective. Journal Of Religion & Health, 55(6), 2039-2052. doi:10.1007/s10943-016-0213-z
Torgler, B., & Schaltegger, C. (2014). Suicide and Religion: New Evidence on the Differences Between Protestantism and Catholicism. Journal For The Scientific Study Of Religion, 53(2), 316-340. doi:10.1111/jssr.12117
Wu, A., Wang, J., & Jia, C. (2015). Religion and Completed Suicide: a Meta-Analysis. Plos ONE, 10(6), 1-14. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131715