A group of researchers led by John Salsman, PhD, from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, noted that spirituality and religion are often sources of comfort to patients with cancer. However, they also noted that studies examining the correlation between religion/spirituality (eg, beliefs, experiences, and coping measures) and mental health (eg, well-being) or psychosocial distress (eg, anxiety, depression) have used heterogeneous measures and therefore have elicited inconsistent findings.
The researchers felt a meaningful synthesis of these findings would be helpful to clinicians, so they conducted a meta-analysis of the research that has been done on this topic.
Four electronic databases were systematically reviewed, and 2073 abstracts met initial selection criteria. Reviewer pairs applied standardized coding schemes to extract indices of the correlation between religion and spirituality and mental health. In total, 617 effect sizes from 148 eligible studies were synthesized using meta-analytic generalized estimating equations, and subgroup analyses were performed to examine moderators of effects.
Researchers also looked for publication bias. They found that demographic and clinical factors were not predictive of the relationship between religion and spirituality and mental health, and the relationship between religion/spirituality was generally positive. The strength of that correlation was modest and varied as a function of the religion and spirituality dimensions and mental health domains assessed. The researchers therefore confirmed that there is a correlation between religion/spirituality and mental health but recommended that more sophisticated methodological approaches are needed to advance research in this area.
Salsman JM, Pustejovsky JE, Jim HSL, et al. A meta-analytic approach to examining the correlation between religion/spirituality and mental health in cancer [published online August 10, 2015]. Cancer.