The study, recently published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health, showed that teens who believed God helped them recover did better, and those who believed God was punishing them did worse.
"This study looked at adolescents with cystic fibrosis and diabetes," said Nina Reynolds, a UAB doctoral student who was the lead author on the study. "We were looking at different coping strategies. Spiritual beliefs have both positive and negative dimensions."
Adolescents who leaned on God for strength and decision-making did better; those who thought God was punishing them or abandoning them did worse, Reynolds said.
"We looked at attitudes of believing a God figure will get them through this, or believing they’re being punished or abandoned," she said.
"Those positive spritiual beliefs predicted better emotional adjustment and fewer behavior problems," Reynolds said. "Those with negative beliefs had more anxiety and depression."
The study followed 128 adolescents, ages 12 to 18, for one year; 82 had Type One diabetes and 46 had cystic fibrosis.
The adolescents, who on average were about 14 to 15, filled out questionnaires in which they rated their agreement with statements such as, "I seek help from God in letting go of my anger." The answers helped summarize whether the adolescents had positive or negative outlooks about faith and its relationship to their condition.
"It’s looking at the relationship of those beliefs to the outcome of their emotional well-being, anxiety and depression," Reynolds said.
"Often medical professionals treat only the physical and do not address the spiritual beliefs," said Sylvie Mrug, UAB associate professor of psychology, who co-authored the study.
"If these teenagers use positive emotional coping, they have fewer emotional problems," Mrug said.
"This study shows those things matter, what they believe and think about God. Patients may benefit from these spiritual beliefs."
Reynolds and Mrug recommend that clinicians assess spirituality as part of treating adolescents with chronic conditions.
"Spiritual beliefs do matter and should be considered by health professionals," Mrug said.