For the past 20 years, Gallup has been asking Americans to rate their mental or emotional wellbeing. This year, while 76% of Americans still rate their mental health as good or excellent, that’s a sharp drop from previous surveys, which had ranged from 81% to 89%.

Individuals who attend weekly religious services were the only ones who saw an increase in their emotional or mental wellbeing self-evaluation. Forty-two percent rated their mental wellbeing excellent in 2019; 46% did so in 2020. The survey did not specify whether this was in-person or online attendance, but it’s another reason why worship services should be treated as “essential” when government officials impose lockdown measures. 

In addition to those attending religious services, Gallup reported that the highest percentage giving themselves an excellent rating included: men; Republicans; married individuals; individuals aged 50-64; and those earning $100,000 or more per year. Between 41% and 46% of those individuals gave themselves an excellent rating for mental health.

Women; Democrats; those earning less than $40,000 per year; young adults between 18 and 29-years-old; unmarried individuals; and all those who seldom or never attend religious services had the lowest self-ratings of excellent, all under 30%. Gallup reports that these groups generally tend to rate themselves lower, stating, “These demographic patterns have been mostly consistent over the past 20 years.”

The results are consistent with a Gallup study in April, where the polling company asks people to rate their lives with the “Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale.” Participants are told:

  • Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.
  • The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.
  • On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present)
  • On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)

Gallup places respondents in groups: Thriving, Struggling, and Suffering. Here’s what they reported about the survey, given in April 2020, “The percentage of U.S. adults who evaluate their lives well enough to be considered ‘thriving’ has dropped to 46.4%, matching the low point measured in November 2008 during the Great Recession. “Today’s thriving rate has worsened about three percentage points since the first half of March and nearly 10 points since the spring of 2019.”

In that survey, greater numbers of participants also reported more stress and worry. Gallup said, “In practical terms, about 51 million more adults were suffering significant worry in late March/early April than were experiencing the same emotion back in August/September. These results have since improved slightly since, and then leveled off in four subsequent measurements, but remain much higher than pre-COVID levels.”

In its most recent poll, Gallup pointed to the coronavirus pandemic and quarantines as influencing factors. Certainly, stress about job and business losses, lack of connection with people and the disruption of day to day life are factors in emotional and mental health.

The company said the outcomes “may also reflect views of the election and the state of race relations, both of which were on Americans’ minds this year.” Individuals were polled between November 5th and 19th, after months of protests and rioting and while many questions remained about election results.

Changing political affiliations or earning more money might increase mental wellbeing. But a simpler step, such as attending religious services, may help people.

Perhaps there is some truth in the old song I used to hear my Dad sing around the house on Sunday mornings, “The Lord is Counting on You.” Here are a couple stanzas, and you can hear Roy Rogers and Dale Evans sing it, here, if you’re so inclined:

Now if you don’t go to church on Sunday
You’ll lead a life that’s bad
You’ll never know just what you’ve missed
But always wish you had

If you want the Lord to be proud of you
And if your heart is true
Then don’t stay in bed but go to church
And live that golden rule

Ah, if only more would heed their tuneful advice. Evidently Sunday church-going keeps you from leading a life that’s bad, and doing so may also improve emotional and mental well-being.

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