New MIC study shows religion can impact students’ wellbeing

Lecturer at Mary Immaculate College and Educational and Child Psychologist, Dr Lydia Mannion. Photo: Arthur Ellis.

RELIGION has the potential to positively or negatively impact on students’ mental health, depending on how it is used.

That’s according to a new study from Mary Immaculate College (MIC) Lecturer and Educational and Child Psychologist, Dr Lydia Mannion.

Dr Mannion conducted research with over a hundred students in transition year, fifth year, and sixth year classes across 10 post-primary schools in Ireland.

Her research investigated the correlation between mental wellbeing and religion, and found that those tending to have a more positive mental wellbeing leaned on positive religious coping methods, whereas those with lower levels of mental wellbeing may interpret difficulties as being divinely attributed or may hold negative feelings towards a deity or god.

Dr Mannion’s surveys measured students’ psychological wellbeing, religiousness, and how they use religion to cope in their day-to-day lives. Individual online interviews on the topic were subsequently completed with a number of these students.

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According to Dr Mannion: “One of the key findings was that a student’s religion can either positively or negatively impact on their mental wellbeing, depending on the way they actually use their religion to cope with life.”

“For example, the use of positive religious coping methods by a young person might look like reading scripture for strength, partaking in a religious youth group, or practising personal prayer. These methods are generally associated with more positive psychological wellbeing, and in particular, a greater sense of purpose in life.”

“Also, when religiously-affiliated adolescents really internalise and buy into their religious beliefs on a personal level, this is linked to better overall mental wellbeing,” she said.

Dr Mannion said that on the other side, negative religious coping appears differently.

“For example, a young person might believe that negative events in their life are caused by divine punishment, may feel abandoned by God or their faith community, or hold feelings of anger or frustration towards God.

“These coping strategies are considered unhealthy and our research shows that they contribute to lower overall psychological wellbeing for young people”, she continued.

Interestingly, students who identified as non-religious were just as likely as religious students to use these negative religious coping methods to deal with their daily lives,” Dr Mannion added.

Dr Mannion says that it is important to emphasise that a young person’s religion can be a useful tool to harness in helping them to deal with challenges.

“We’re not suggesting that students take up a religion for the specific purpose of boosting their wellbeing, but it is important to acknowledge that if a student is religious, this can be used as a tool to promote positive mental health outcomes for them,” she concluded.