Belief in an afterlife, spiritual well-being and end-of-life despair in patients with advanced cancer

Colleen McClain-Jacobson, Barry Rosenfeld, Anne Kosinski, Hayley Pessin, James E Cimino, William Breitbart
General Hospital Psychiatry 2004, 26 (6): 484-6
Despite the plethora of research linking spirituality, religiosity and psychological well-being among people living with medical illnesses, the role of afterlife beliefs on psychological functioning has been virtually ignored. The present investigation assessed afterlife beliefs, spiritual well-being and psychological functioning at the end of life among 276 terminally ill cancer patients. Results indicated that belief in an afterlife was associated with lower levels of end-of-life despair (desire for death, hopelessness and suicidal ideation) but was not associated with levels of depression or anxiety. Further analyses indicated that when spirituality levels were controlled for, the effect of afterlife beliefs disappeared. The authors concluded that spirituality has a much more powerful effect on psychological functioning than beliefs held about an afterlife. Treatment implications are discussed.

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