To examine the association between religious involvement and mental health care use by adults age 18 or older with mental health problems.
We used data from the 2001–2003 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health. We defined two subgroups with moderate (=49,902) and serious mental or emotional distress (=14,548). For each subgroup, we estimated a series of bivariate probit models of past year use of outpatient care and prescription medications using indicators of the frequency of religious service attendance and two measures of the strength and influence of religious beliefs as independent variables. Covariates included common Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, disorders symptoms, substance use and related disorders, self‐rated health status, and sociodemographic characteristics.
Among those with moderate distress, we found some evidence of a positive relationship between religious service attendance and outpatient mental health care use and of a negative relationship between the importance of religious beliefs and outpatient use. Among those with serious distress, use of outpatient care and medication was more strongly associated with service attendance and with the importance of religious beliefs. By contrast, we found a negative association between outpatient use and the influence of religious beliefs on decisions.
The positive relationship between religious service participation and service use for those with serious distress suggests that policy initiatives aimed at increasing the timely and appropriate use of mental health care may be able to build upon structures and referral processes that currently exist in many religious organizations.