Religious Orientation and Religious Coping in Adolescents With and Without a Chronic Illness

Jacqueline Beine Brown

Abstract

Religion plays an important role in most people's lives and can greatly affect how individuals cope and interpret stressful situations. However, very little is known about how adolescents incorporate religion into their lives (e.g., is it central or peripheral to their lives, do they utilize religious coping). Furthermore, given the additional stressors experienced by adolescents who have a chronic illness, it is likely their religious orientations and religious coping strategies are different from their healthy peers. Thus, the present study was designed to examine the constructs in both typically developing and chronically ill adolescents. Additional constructs of hope, general coping, and quality of life were also included to explore the relationship these constructs have to religious orientation and religious coping. Participants included 179 adolescents aged 13 to 17 diagnosed with a chronic illness (n = 81) and healthy controls (n = 98). The Chronic Illness group was further subdivided into Sickle Cell Disease (n = 27), Diabetes Mellitus (n = 27), Cancer (n = 21), and Other (n = 6) groups. The majority of participants reported being members of the Christian faith (72%); 58% were female; 62% were African American, and 36% were Caucasian. Participants completed self-report measures for the various constructs and their parents reported demographic and illness-related information. Participants in the healthy group were obtained through undergraduates at a southern university. Participants in the Sickle Cell Disease and Cancer groups were obtained through regularly scheduled clinic appointments; the Diabetes Mellitus group was obtained through mailers from the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi. Results indicated that adolescents with a chronic illness report spending more time thinking about their religion relative to healthy controls, report internalizing their religious beliefs more than healthy peers, and report using more religious/spiritual coping than healthy peers. Adolescents' perception of illness severity was not correlated with religious orientation or religious coping. There were no differences between the groups with regard to quest religious orientation. The differences between the various illness groups and exploratory findings regarding hope, quality of life, and general coping are discussed as well as areas for future research.