Patterns of Religiosity, Death Anxiety, and Hope in a Population of Community-Dwelling Palliative Care Patients in New Zealand: What Gives Hope If Religion Can’t?

Catherine M. Byrne, Deidre D. Morgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

This study examines the prevalence of religiosity, death anxiety, and hope in a sample of New Zealand community hospice patients in the last 6 months of life. It explores the factors triggering distress or hope and examines whether religiosity is protective against death anxiety for this population. Early studies showed religious faith helps relieve death anxiety, but later work suggests this may only be the case in societies which are generally religious. Very little research has been conducted on this topic in New Zealand, from which recent censuses indicate is an increasingly secular country. If religion is not an important source of hope for dying, it is important to explore what factors do help relieve existential anxiety and to consider their clinical relevance. This study confirmed that organized religion was not a major support factor. Yet several people who declared themselves nonreligious scored highly for intrinsic religiosity and were among the most hopeful participants. This could suggest that spirituality may be more relevant than organized religion in relieving existential distress. The main source of hope for most participants was joyful memories and meaningful relationships. Fear of being a burden and of causing family suffering were the most significant causes of distress. Systematic spiritual assessment for all patients, not just those with a declared religious faith, a biography service, and psychotherapy, may all have a role in managing death anxiety at the end of life. Further work with larger and more diverse populations would be needed to confirm these findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-384
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Volume37
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 9 Dec 2019

Keywords

  • death anxiety
  • dying
  • hope/joy
  • New Zealand
  • palliative care
  • religion/spirituality
  • secular/non-religious

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