Depression affects approximately 15% to 25% of cancer patients. This is not surprising as a diagnosis of cancer can cause a number of patients to become depressed. The problem is, though, that depression can affect the course of the disease, with mortality rates 25% to 39% higher in cancer patients who are also depressed. So it would appear that the two are linked such that cancer diagnosis can induce depression and depression can reduce the prognosis for recovery.
Many cancer patients pray to help cope with the disease, but it is not known if prayer is in any way affective in helping the patients with either depression or with dealing with cancer and its treatment. In today’s Research News article “Types of prayer and depressive symptoms among cancer patients: the mediating role of rumination and social support”
John Perez and colleagues investigated the relationship between different kinds of prayer and depression in cancer patients and find that certain types of prayer are associated with lower depression in these patients.
They investigated eight different types of prayer—adoration, confession, reception, supplication, thanksgiving, prayer for one’s physical health, prayer for emotional strength, and prayer for others’ well-being. They found that more adoration prayer, reception prayer, thanksgiving prayer, and prayer for the well-being of others the lower the level of depression.
In looking deeper at the pattern of results they determined that prayers of thanksgiving acted by decreasing ruminative self-focused attention which in turn reduced depression. It would make sense that prayer that helped focus the patient on what they are thankful for in life would result in an increase in positive emotions and a decrease in the time spent ruminating about the cancer, leading to lower depression.
They also found that that prayer for the well-being of others was directly associated with lower depression and indirectly by being positively related to social support which is in turn associated with reduced depression. Praying for others directs attention away from the patient toward the problems of others. This can help provide a perspective on their problems with cancer and thereby reduce the depression. People who are thinking of the well-being of others tend to be better cared about and liked by others. The increase in the social support for them may follow. If someone cares about others, others care about them.
Reception and adoration prayer are both forms of contemplative prayer which is a form of meditation. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve the negative psychological issues that can go along with a cancer diagnosis http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/tackle-cancer-with-mindfulness/. So engaging in these forms of prayer may work through the same mechanism as meditation in improving the mood of cancer patients.
Hence it appears that the common response of cancer patients to pray is more than just an expression of religious faith. It has a positive impact on the patient’s psychological well-being which is known to improve the prognosis for recovery.
So, pray when cancer is diagnosed, reduce depression, and increase survival chances.