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October 7, 2014 12:47 pm

Study: Teens Who Practice Judaism Are ’45 Percent Less Likely’ to Commit Suicide Than Their Secular Peers

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Israelis pray for the safety of IDF soldiers at the Western Wall. Photo: Tazpit News Agency.

A new study led by Tel Aviv University claims that religious Jewish teens are 45 percent less likely to exhibit suicide-prone behavior than secular Jewish adolescents, the UK’s Daily Mail reported on Friday.

Researchers in Israel conducted home interviews with 620 Jewish teens aged 14 to 17 and their mothers to assess their socio-demographic characteristics and mental health, including suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The participants were also asked to categorize their degree of religiosity as “secular,” “observant” or “ultra-Orthodox.”

The study, which was published in the journal European Psychiatry, found that those who did not define themselves as “secular” had less suicidal thoughts, despite still being depressed. The conclusion suggests that religious observance helps protect Jewish adolescents from trying to kill themselves, according to researchers.

“For many of these teens, suicide is simply about losing hope,” said one of the study’s author’s Dr. Gal Shoval, from Tel Aviv University. “We know from working with suicide survivors that even when they were 99 percent sure they were going to kill themselves, they still sought hope. Jewish faith and community may be their most important source of hope.”

Israel’s suicide rate is among the lowest in the developed world, the Daily Mail reported. In the U.S., however, suicide falls only behind accidents and murder as the leading cause of death among 15-to-24 year-olds, according to the National Institute for Mental Health.

“Death by suicide is one of the most common causes of death in the adolescent population, and it is potentially preventable,” said co-author of the study Dr. Ben Amit from Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine. “This has led us, like many other researchers, to try to better understand the reasons leading to adolescent suicide – to reduce its occurrence. Recognizing the risk factors and mechanisms associated with self-harm and suicide is important in the prevention of adolescent suicide.”

This study is the first of its kind to show the “protective effect” that religiosity can bring to prevent suicide among Jewish teens, according to Amit. He said findings from the study may give valuable insight to clinicians and policymakers when it comes to dealing with Jewish adolescents in Israel and around the world.

“Using statistical tools, we demonstrated that the protective effect of the practice of Judaism was not associated with a decreased risk of depression. Instead, it enhanced effective coping mechanisms,” he added. “This stands in direct contrast to studies of religious Christian teenagers who reported feeling less depressed than their secular peers.”

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