Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Assessing the Unique Role of Religious Coping in Suicidal Behavior Among US Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans

In this study we examined relations of positive and negative religious coping with risk for suicidal behavior in a sample of Iraq and/or Afghanistan Veterans. Participants completed self-report instruments assessing risk for suicidal behavior, religious coping, general combat exposure, morally injurious experiences, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Frequency analyses revealed that half of all participants endorsed being religious, and adaptively drawing on religion to cope was more common than maladaptive coping. However, positive religious coping was not associated with suicidal behavior at the time of the study. In contrast, negative religious coping was uniquely associated with the risk for suicide when we controlled for demographic risk factors, war-zone experiences, depression, and PTSD. Although we expect adaptive reliance on religion to be beneficial for mental health, veterans who experience internal and/or external conflicts in the spiritual domain may be at increased risk for engaging in suicidal behavior following their war-zone service.