Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 1055–1064 | Cite as

Religion, Purpose in Life, Social Support, and Psychological Distress in Chinese University Students

  • Zhizhong Wang
  • Harold G. Koenig
  • Hui Ma
  • Saad Al Shohaib
Original Paper


We examined the relationship between religious involvement and psychological distress and explored the mediating effects of social support and purpose in life in university students in western, mid-western, and eastern China. Cross-sectional survey of a representative sample of 1812 university students was conducted. The Purpose in Life scale, Duke Social Support Index, and Religious Commitment Inventory-10 were administered, along with Kessler’s Psychological Distress Scale. Structural equation modeling was used to test two models of the mediation hypothesis, examining direct, indirect, and total effects. Model 1 (with direction of effect hypothesized from religiosity to psychological distress) indicated that religious involvement had a direct effect on increasing psychological distress (β = 0.23, p < .01) with minor mediated effects. However, Model 2 (with direction of effect hypothesized from psychological distress to religiosity) indicated strong indirect protective effects of religiosity on psychological distress through purpose in life and social support (β = −.40, p < .01). The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that psychological distress increases religious involvement, which then increases purpose in life and social support that then lead to lower psychological distress.


Religion Purpose in life Social support Psychological distress Mainland China 



This study was partly supported by the National Natural Science Funds of China (81060242) and National Undergraduate Scientific and Technological Innovation Project (2013-11). The funders did not involve in study design, data analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of this manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zhizhong Wang
    • 1
  • Harold G. Koenig
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Hui Ma
    • 1
  • Saad Al Shohaib
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Epidemiology and Statistics, School of Public HealthNingxia Medical UniversityYinchuanChina
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Department of MedicineDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Department of MedicineKing Abdulaziz University (KAU)JeddahSaudi Arabia

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