Religions (Sep 2021)

Belief in God and Psychological Distress: Is It the Belief or Certainty of the Belief?

  • Zachary E. Magin,
  • Adam B. David,
  • Lauren M. Carney,
  • Crystal L. Park,
  • Ian A. Gutierrez,
  • Login S. George

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12, no. 9
p. 757


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Research on the relationship between belief in God and mental health is scarce and often limited to comparing group differences in mental health across various self-reported religious identities (e.g., atheists, agnostics, believers). To advance this work, we focused on how the extent of belief in God related to three indices of psychological distress (depression, anxiety, and stress) in a sample of undergraduate students (N = 632) with a variety of religious identities. We used a model comparison approach to evaluate both linear and curvilinear relationships between belief in God and psychological distress and tested potential mediating pathways for linear relationships. The findings revealed that belief in God was negatively linearly related to depression; this relationship was fully mediated by meaning in life, feeling comforted by God, positive religious coping, positive reappraisal, and substance use coping. In contrast, belief in God was curvilinearly related to anxiety but unrelated to stress. These results suggest that both strength and certainty of the belief in God may be important in understanding religion’s relationship with psychological distress.