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College Students and Spirituality

by Robert J. Young
©, 2006, Robert J. Young

[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

According to a USA Today article (Oct 27, 2004, 7D), college students with religious involvement have better emotional and mental health than those without involvement in spiritual activities. The national survey of 3680 college students was done at 46 colleges and universities across the United States representing a wide geographic area and a wide range of different kinds of institutions. Students who do not participate in religious activities were more than twice as likely to report poor mental health or depression as students who attend religious services frequently.

Researcher Alexander Astin concluded that being religious contributes to one's sense of well-being. Those who participate regularly in religious activities were also less likely to feel overwhelmed during college. This is especially important since psychological well-being declines significantly during college years. College juniors are more than twice as likely to consider their own emotional health as below average, and also more likely to feel overwhelmed by the stresses of college. One in five students in the survey had sought personal counseling since entering college; 77% of college juniors report feeling depressed frequently or occasionally.

Spiritual activities were defined as reading the Bible, attending religious services, or participating in religious organizations on campus. A high degree of spirituality correlates with high self-esteem and feeling good about where life is going. Students who see themselves as spiritual feel better about themselves.

Religious activity also correlates to alcohol consumption. Among non-beer drinkers before college, three-fourths of those with religious activity in college will continue to abstain while only 46% of students without religious activity in college will continue to abstain.

Astin notes that an important question remains: does religious involvement contribute to psychological well-being or do psychologically healthy persons seek religious and spiritual activities? According to the report from the Higher Education Research Institute, 77% of college students pray, 78% discuss religious with friends, and 76% are searching for meaning and purpose in life.

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Last updated November 7, 2006