Suicide rates among Jewish teens drop as religious devotion grows, study finds

Religious Jewish teens are far less likely to attempt suicide than their secular Jewish counterparts, a new study finds, bolstering previous studies among other religious groups that suggest faith may offer some protection against suicide.

Researchers in Israel found that of the 620 teens studied, the most religious among them were 45 percent less likely to try to kill themselves or exhibit suicidal behavior than the less religious.

“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,” said study co-author Gal Shoval of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine. “Jewish faith and community may be their most important source of hope.”

The Israeli study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal European Psychiatry, backs previous research, which focused on Christian adults and strongly suggested that religion protects against suicide, particularly among women. Those studies also showed that people who demonstrate an “extrinsic” spirituality — regular church attendance, for example — are less likely to consider suicide than those whose spirituality is more “intrinsic,” i.e., a private religious devotion.

Commenting on previous studies, the Tel Aviv researchers noted that while devout Christian teens reported feeling less depressed than their secular peers, Jewish teens’ religiosity was not linked with less depression. Instead, they found, religiosity “enhanced effective coping mechanisms,” said study co-author Dr. Ben Amit.

The idea that people of faith are less likely to want to kill themselves was first put forth by Emile Durkheim, the founder of sociology, who wrote “Suicide” in 1897. In the book, Durkheim explored suicide within a cultural context, investigated varying suicide rates among Protestants and Catholics and concluded that stronger social control within Catholic circles resulted in lower suicide rates.

Though Israel has a relatively low rate of suicide in the developed world, suicide is the third most common killer of American youth ages 15-24, after accidents and murder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

An online version of the Israeli study was published by European Psychiatry in June.