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Culture Affects Attitude Toward Depression


WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Jan. 16, 2002 -- Is that a tear in your beer? Could be, if you're Protestant; probably not, if you're Jewish. A new British study reveals that attitudes toward depression and alcohol vary with a person's cultural and religious background. While Protestants tend to see drinking alcohol as a socially acceptable means of escaping the blues, Jews are less likely to imbibe and are more tolerant of depression.

"Overall, this study generally supported the idea that Jewish men are reluctant to use alcohol as an escape from depression. Protestants, particularly men and the less religiously active, see alcohol as a good and acceptable way of dealing with misery and stress," write professor Kate Loewenthal and colleagues at Royal Holloway's Department of Psychology, University of London.

In an earlier study, Loewenthal's team found that depression was more common among Jews than Protestants, and among women than men. They thought this might be because Protestant men are more likely to drown their sorrows in alcohol, or even to kill themselves, than are women or Jews of either gender.

To test the hypothesis, the researchers conducted in-depth surveys and interviews to learn the attitudes and opinions toward alcohol, suicide, and depression of 95 Protestant and 75 Jewish men and women of similar age, marital status, job type, and level of religious observance.

"Protestants reported heavier drinking than Jews, generally had more favorable attitudes toward alcohol use, and were more liberal toward alcoholics," says Loewenthal in a news release. They described drinking as normal, socially acceptable, relaxing, and a pleasant escape from stress.

Jews, on the other hand, expressed concern about loss of control from alcohol use, revulsion at drunken behavior, and fear of addiction. Given these attitudes, say the researchers, Jews would be unlikely to turn to alcohol in times of stress or sadness.

What's more, Jews in the study were more likely than Protestants to report a high level of tolerance for depression. "This included measures on bearability of depression, lack of blame for depression, and a willingness to confide in others," says Loewenthal.

Taken together, the findings "may help explain the higher prevalence of depression among Jewish men," she says, "because they are more willing to recognize and report it" and less likely to turn to alcohol to self-medicate.

Attitudes toward suicide were "less clear cut," she says, and similar for men and women, "but Jews had more moral objections and greater fear of suicide, and were marginally less accepting of suicide than their Protestant counterparts."

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