The Role Religion And Spirituality Play In Fighting Mental Illness

Some religions, unfortunately, have been put in a position where the majority seems to be either anti-science or anti-modern society. There are some religions which accept science and the importance of progressiveness in human society but they are few in number.

In the time I have spent reading about other people’s stories and how they have been recovering from depression and anxiety, I often see a lot of people talking about how Jesus/Allah/Krishna helped them become stronger and overcome depression. They talked about how whenever they felt weak, they let all their sorrows out to their God and felt better. There are stories of how people read the holy books and felt connected to the words and gained strength from them and continue to do so even now.

Now since I am a person of science, rather than completely ignoring these stories as anecdotes, I actually tried to look into the scientific literature on how religion and spirituality play a role in recovery from mental illnesses. I found some interesting pieces I would like to share with you,

“Consistent with the predictions that grow out of attachment theory, people who report a closer connection to God experience a number of health-related benefits: less depression and higher self-esteem (Maton, 1989b), less loneliness (Kirkpatrick, Kellas, & Shillito, 1993), greater relational maturity (Hall & Edwards, 1996, 2002), and greater psychosocial competence (Pargament et al., 1988). Furthermore, as predicted by attachment theory, the perceived sense of closeness to God appears to be particularly valuable to people in stressful situations.” -Hill

“…empirical studies have found that religious and spiritual struggles are linked to both negative and positive health outcomes. On the negative side, religious and spiritual struggles have been associated with a number of indicators of psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, negative mood, poorer quality of life, panic disorder, and suicidality (Exline et al., 2000; Hays, Meador, Branch, & George, 2001; Krause, IngersollDayton, Ellison, & Wulff, 1999; Pargament et al., 2000; Pargament, Smith, Koenig, & Perez, 1998; Pargament, Zinnbauer, et al., 1998; Trenholm, Trent, & Compton, 1998). With respect to physical health, religious and spiritual struggles have also been predictive of declines in physical recovery in medical rehabilitation patients (Fitchett, Rybarczyk, DeMarco, & Nicholas, 1999), longer hospital stays (Berg, Fonss, Reed, & VandeCreek, 1995), and greater risk of mortality following a medical illness (Pargament, Koenig, Tarakeshwar, & Hahn, 2001). But various indicators of religious and spiritual struggle have been associated with positive outcomes, such as stress-related growth, spiritual growth, open-mindedness, self-actualization, and lower levels of prejudice (Calhoun, Cann, Tedeschi, & McMillan, 2000; Pargament et al., 2000; Ventis, 1995). These findings seem to support the notion that religious and spiritual struggles represent a crucial fork in the road for many people, one that can lead in the direction of growth or to significant health problems.”

It is hence clear that religion and spirituality do play a role in recovery and the functioning of attachment theory is at the core of the science of religion.

So it is pretty obvious that if people choose to use religion or spirituality as their choice of recovery path, we should let them. While we should encourage visits to psychiatrists, if someone trusts their god more than a doctor, then we need to let them make the choice.

It is true that some religions may say that people with mental illness are possessed by demons or spirits. Others say that someone has a mental illness because they have done something wrong. These beliefs might stop people from getting professional help. Religious groups may suggest different things to help the person such as exorcisms, herbal remedies or witchcraft. These approaches may be more harmful than helpful but at the same time,

  1. If you are part of a spiritual community you may have more support and friendship.
  2. Spirituality may help you feel connected to something bigger than yourself.
  3. It may help you to make sense of your experiences.
  4. You may feel strength or hope from your spirituality that helps to get you through times when you are unwell.
  5. You may feel more at peace with yourself and other people around you.

We must always remember the fight is against mental illnesses and not the coping or recovery methods, we don’t have to establish the empirical supremacy of one method over the other, we must always be looking for new ones instead.

Cited Study by Peter C. Hill et al. and Spirituality and Mental Health as a source.

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