Put simply, religion and spirituality are efforts into discovering the meaning of life and, in certain instances, discovering a relationship with a higher power. We’ve seen much of Western civilization put aside these efforts with claims that there is no meaning to our existence. However, such claims undermine the role of religion and spirituality in mental health.
While there’s plenty of substantial criticism linked to religion, there’s no denying that it helps an individual in developing a system of beliefs. In many regards, these beliefs become guidelines for a person’s life and leaves them with a sense of meaning.
Without the framework for such convictions, an individual is forced to determine his or her own set of beliefs. Or, worse still, go about life with the belief that there is no meaning. While it isn’t always the case, this can often lead to certain mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at the relationship between psychology and religion. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
How Does Religion Benefit Mental Health?
Beyond giving people something to believe in, religion provides an often rigid structure to follow. However, even more importantly, it provides an individual with a group of likeminded individuals connected through these beliefs.
Naturally, this can have a very positive impact on a person’s mental health. More specifically, researchers report that those who are actively religious have reduced rates of: ¹
- Other substance abuse
But why does religion have such a positive impact? There are three main reasons:
As mentioned, religion provides people with values to live by. While these values differ based on the religion, they often revolve around gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness.
These lessons play a fundamental role when we’re met with challenges in life (which are bound to naturally occur). In turn, people who believe in religion feel more guided in life, as though they have a direction to follow.
These teachings are more than just a valuable tool to the individual. They bring together a community where people develop social connections and a support system.
The most important aspect of religious communities is the fact that people feel a sense of belonging. According to research, this is a fundamental in mental health and is often overlooked when trying to treat specific conditions. ²
When one is attached to a religious organization, it’s usually standard practice to participate in rituals. This may be a holiday or more particular celebration (i.e. a bar mitzva).
Rituals are important to mental health for a number of reasons. For one, they’re a reason for people to get together and celebrate – tying into the social impact religion can have on mental health. They also provide you with structure, regularity, and predictability.
Our brains feel more comfortable when they’re maneuvering through a schedule. It allows to properly comprehend what is happening, when it’s happening, and why it’s happening. Rituals are one of the primary elements of easing mental health and a key feature missing from atheism.
How Does Spirituality Benefit Mental Health?
In many regards, spirituality and religion are interchangeable. However, there are a number of people out there who feel a sense of spirituality while also not identifying with any particular religion.
People of this category are also less likely to develop mental illness. ³ Though, the reasons for this slightly differ.
The most impactful aspect of spirituality is it allows us to connect with something larger than ourselves – whatever that may be. Due to this connection, spiritual people tend to also discover their meaning in life, similar to that of someone who follows a religion.
Furthermore, while spirituality isn’t as directly linked to rituals and social events, it does incorporate healthy practices for the body and mind. These practices will naturally promote emotional and mental wellbeing.
Similarly to religion, we can observe spirituality’s benefits in three ways:
1.) Individual Teachings
While guided spiritual teachings are available, most people learn about spirituality on their own terms; whether this be through books, classes, or life experiences.
The primary purpose of these teachings is to give the individual both a sense of self and empowerment. They usually focus on a person’s connection to their convictions and how they can grow through those.
2.) Role in Environment
Spiritual practice can help to bring groups of people together. There are plenty of events and retreats that allow individuals seeking out their meaning to meet others on the same path.
Admittedly, spirituality lacks the defined sense of community as seen in specific religions. However, it makes up for this by creating a more open-minded appreciation for other people and their personal beliefs.
Spirituality plays just as much a role as religion in how we interact with people and other aspects of our physical environment. It’s practices and rituals simply aren’t as established.
3.) The Practice of Mindfulness
Still, spirituality does offer a number of practices that you won’t find across all religions. The most notable is meditation and using this as a basis of self-reflection.
Through meditation (and other teachings), it’s hoped that your are led to discovering your life philosophy.
Furthermore, mindfulness practices can help you in creating positive hobbies, such as art and poetry. As we’ve discussed on other post, such hobbies can have a very beneficial impact on your overall mental health. ⁴
There’s an undeniable relationship between religion (or spirituality) and mental health. When life calls for stressful moments, people tend to turn to religion for solace. And while this may not be seen as a healthy behavior by all, it holds a purpose that no psychological research has been able to emulate.
That is, it gives people a sense of security in their life meanings. When one has a set of beliefs with a strong foundation, they’re much less likely to feel depressed or have anxiety attacks appear suddenly. The truth is they’ve found a balance in life and that homeostasis is reflected in both the brain and the body.
While not everyone will turn to religion as a means of relieving mental health, considering your life’s meaning may prove to be beneficial. If you’re struggling with this answer, it may also help to seek out spiritual guidance.
Still have questions about the role of religion and spirituality in mental health?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Indian Journal of Psychiatry: Religion and mental health
² Archives of Psychiatric Nursing: Sense of belonging: a vital mental health concept
³ World Journal of Clinical Cases: Spirituality, religiousness, and mental health: A review of the current scientific evidence
⁴ Utah State University: How Hobbies Improve Mental Health