Research suggests that Chinese religious believers are more likely to commit suicide than those identifying as non-religious among rural young adults, contrary to findings in Western countries. However, one cannot conclude that religiosity is associated with elevated suicide risk without examining the effect of political and religious beliefs in a generally atheist country like China where political belief plays a dominant role in the belief system of young adults. The present study investigated the effects of political and religious belief on suicidality with meaningfulness and psychopathology as potential mediators in a large representative sample of Chinese college students.
A cross-sectional survey was conducted among 1390 first-year college students randomly sampled from 10 colleges and universities in mainland China.
A total of 1168 respondents (84.0%) provided complete data on all variables. Lifetime prevalence of suicidal ideation, plan, and attempt were 45.1%, 6.8%, and 1.9% respectively, with one-year suicidal ideation showing at 19.3%. Female gender was associated with elevated risk of suicidality. Political belief but not religious belief was associated with decreased suicide risk. A significant interactive effect of political belief and religious belief was found, indicating that for political believers, being religious was associated with decreased suicide risk; for non-political believers, being religious was associated with increased suicide risk. Multi-group structural equation modeling showed that meaningfulness completely mediated and psychopathology partially mediated the effect of belief system on suicidality. Gender differences were found in pathways of political belief by religious beliefs to suicidality and political belief to psychopathology. The coefficients were significant for males but not for females.
In less religious societies, political belief may serve as a means of integration as does religious affiliation in religious societies. Males were more likely to benefit from the protective effect of a belief system on suicidality than females.
Keywords: Suicidality, Religion, Political belief, Meaningfulness, Psychopathology, China