A growing amount of research has examined the link between religious belief, religious practice, spirituality and mental health. The amassed research (collected by Psychology Today) indicates that higher levels of religious belief and or spirituality practice is associated with better mental health. In particular, the research suggests that higher levels of engagement spiritually or religion are associated with lower rates of depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, and suicidal behavior. The practice of spiritually and religion is also associated with better physical health and overall well-being.
Spirituality and religion can play an important role in your life
Religion and spirituality are both rooted in trying to understand the meaning of life and, in some cases, how a relationship with a higher power may influence that meaning. While religion and spirituality are similar in foundation, they can be very different in practice. Religion gives people something to believe in, provides a sense of structure and typically offers a group of people to connect with each other over similar beliefs, thus helping to reduce social isolation. Making time to practice spirituality or attend religious group settings can have a positive impact on mental health — research suggests that they can even reduce suicide rates, alcoholism and drug use.
How Does Religion Help Mental Health?
People who regularly attend at a place of worship which can help to include an individual into a community of people who can offer material, moral, emotional, and social support, all of which can foster good mental health. Similarly, many people with mental illness report that private prayer, devotional readings, and religious programming (on TV, the radio, or the internet) can provide solace and comfort, which can help support mental wellbeing.
What is spirituality?
You can think about spirituality in different ways. There are no rules to being spiritual. One way of thinking about it is, the meaning and purpose that you look for in your life. It can give you a sense of your own worth and value. This can also help you to find a sense of hope. It can help to feel support at times of loss and suffering.
Spiritual practices could be things like the following:
- Belonging to a faith community.
- Meditation and prayer. Mindfulness is based on meditation and it is usually available in local/online groups or through the NHS, or in books, apps, YouTube videos and websites.
- Living by a set of rules that you set for yourself. For example, how you treat people.
- Focusing on spiritual values such as honesty, kindness, hope and compassion.
What is religion?
Religion is linked with a particular faith, tradition or institution.
If you’re religious, you may believe in a god. People who follow the same religion will base their values on shared beliefs. But religion is open to interpretation. This means that even though people have shared core beliefs, they may have different values. Religious leaders are there to guide you through your religious journey.
If you follow a religion, this may mean that you accept guidance or certain practices. For example, you may have to do things at a certain time, such as saying prayers, or not eating certain foods.
Are spirituality and religion the same thing?
Spirituality and religion are linked. But spirituality can be more general and include many other things. Spirituality can mean different things to different people or you can follow a common spiritual belief. You can be spiritual without being religious.
Religion and spirituality can help you to develop inner strength, peace, hope and optimism. Religion is based on shared beliefs whereas spirituality can be seen as an individual belief or feeling. This can be your own experience or belief in something beyond yourself.
A religion is usually institution that has a set of organised practices and a structured belief system. These beliefs are usually formally documented, such as in the Bible. With spirituality a person’s individual stages can grow and change.
How can spirituality and religion be helpful and harmful?
Can spirituality and religion be helpful for mental health?
Spirituality and religion can be helpful to manage stressful life events and improve your mental health. There are a few ways that spirituality and religion may help your mental health, such as:
- If you are part of a spiritual or religious community you may have more support and friendship.
- You may find it helpful to feel connected to something bigger than yourself.
- It could help you to make sense of your experiences.
- You may feel strength or hope from your spirituality or religion, which can help if you’re unwell.
- You might feel more at peace with yourself and other people around you.
Can spirituality and religion be harmful to mental health?
Although quite rare, there are sometimes people in spiritual or religious groups who may take advantage of vulnerable people. You may;
- Feel more vulnerable in times of difficulty and emotional distress.
- Be more willing to listen to people who want to make you believe their views.
- Extreme views could make someone feel more paranoid, making a person’s mental health much worse.
Extreme religious of spiritual groups may hold ideas or beliefs that most people think are unreasonable or unacceptable. Some people’s faith is so important to them that they feel justified in acting in extreme ways. This is to try and make others share the same beliefs as them.
Extremist views can be from things like:
- How someone interprets a religious or holy book.
- A belief that they will be rewarded in life or an afterlife.
- The influence of others.
- The belief that they’re doing it for god.
‘Radicalisation’ is when someone tries to get you to believe and follow their extreme views and practices. People with mental health issues are more vulnerable to extremism.
Discussing my needs - How can I talk about my spiritual or religious needs?
1 in 2 people who use mental health services find religion or spirituality helpful to manage their mental health difficulties. But they often find it difficult to speak about religion or spirituality with their healthcare professionals.
If you want to talk about your religious or spiritual needs, you can think about the following questions:
- What do you want your life to be about?
- What keeps you going in times of difficulty?
- What is important to you?
- Has something happened to you which has changed your point of view?
- Do you have a feeling of belonging and being valued?
- Do you feel safe?
- Are you being listened to as you would wish?
- What makes you feel supported?
- What makes you feel happy?
Talking about how you think you fit into the world, and your personal values, may be useful for your mental health recovery. It may help you figure out your feelings, beliefs and attitude towards religion and spirituality. You could connect with your community- or a faith-based organizations If face to face groups are an issue, consider connecting online, through social media, or by phone or email.
But think carefully about who you talk to about your views and beliefs. You should talk to someone who you trust and who respects you. This could be a loved one or a mental health professional.
When you first access a service, such as an NHS mental health service, they should ask what your religious and spiritual beliefs are. They should continue to ask you throughout your care and treatment.
Remember, It is your choice if you share your religious and spiritual views with your mental health team.
For Further Support
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