Spirituality and Mental Health

By: Prakyath Chadalawada 2nd period

How do religion and spirituality impact one's mental and physical health?

Difference Between Religion and Spirituality

In the article "Religion and Mental Health" in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, religion is defined as an organized system of beliefs and rituals that are intended to provide an individual with connection to a transcendental power (usually God), whereas spirituality is more a personal quest in which one searches for answers about life, meaning, and relationships.

Spiritual Obstacles/ Complexes

In one's own spiritual quest, one can encounter obstacles that may affect one's spiritual health, or cause one to plateau in a certain mentality or stage in life. In "Care of the Soul: Spiritual Complexes," Thomas Moore speaks about spiritual complexes. A complex is described as "a set of emotions, memories, anxieties and desires centered around a theme (Moore 2)." Moore states that fanaticism, closed-mindedness, self denial, and guilt are all symptoms of being caught in a spiritual complex, and this can be detrimental to one's life, as one becomes obsessed with certain parts of a system and does not move on. These characteristics prevent a person from progressing spiritually in their own lives, and it can be difficult to recognize these traits in oneself. Furthermore, in an article written by Thomas Moore called "Care of the Soul: Spiritual Disorders," Moore lists other possible pitfalls one can find themselves in. Moore lists such things as "fixation an an earlier spiritual period of life," and "finding pleasure in making moralistic judgements."

Example of a Complex

The article below was written for the website Faith and Health Connection by Dale Fletcher, and reveals certain ways in which one can get caught in a spiritual complex which leads to self doubt, closed-mindedness and perhaps even anxiety. This article is geared toward the Christian population, and contains many unfounded statements, telling the reader that simply following this religion can lead to better health, without providing proof or research that would give credit to this. For example the article states "As we embrace the truth found in the Bible and begin to live according to its principles, we can experience God’s presence and love. This gives us the wisdom, hope and power we need for everyday living (Fletcher 7)," without giving any proof as to how religion can truly aid someone's health.

Health Benefits

Contrasting the pitfalls one can encounter in their religious or spiritual quest, there are many real-life benefits one can reap from including spirituality in their modern life. In the article "The role of spirituality in mental health" by Christina M. Puchalski, information is offered about compassionate care in hospitals, and how spirituality can be integrated into the institution. For example many dying patients often are ignored, even though spirituality is an integral part of most people's lives, especially close to death. Victor Fankl, a psychiatrist who wrote about his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, says "Man is not destroyed by suffering, he is destroyed by suffering without meaning (Frankl 2)." A challenge most physicians face is helping people find meaning and acceptance amidst the suffering they go through, and each patients spirituality should be addressed personally by their doctor so that they can find purpose and happiness despite their suffering. The affect of spirituality on health is a currently active field of research, and this research can be divided into 3 categories (Puchalski): Mortality, coping, and recovery. Observational studies suggest that those who have regular spiritual practices in their lives, such as meditation, tend to live longer. Authors hypothesize that religious commitment may improve stress control by directly offering better coping mechanisms (Puchalski). Spiritual beliefs can help patients cope with disease and face death. "When asked what helped them cope with their gynecologic cancer, 93% of 108 women in a study cited spiritual beliefs. In addition, 75% of these patients stated that religion had a significant place in their lives, and 49% said they had become more spiritual after their diagnosis (Puchalski)." Furthermore, spiritual commitment tends to enhance recovery from illness and surgery. "For example, a study of heart transplant patients showed that those who participated in religious activities and said their beliefs were important complied better with follow-up treatment, had improved physical functioning at the 12-month follow-up visit, had higher levels of self-esteem, and had less anxiety and fewer health worries (Puchalski)." In general, it seems that people who worry less and are spiritually committed are more likely to live longer and happier lives.

Health Benefits (cont.)

In a new article published in the "Journal of General Internal Medicine," it is shown that spirituality may help HIV patients live longer. Over the course of 17 years, the study followed HIV-positive adults who were suffering from the mid-stage of the disease. The study discovered that people engaged in spiritual practices and thinking had a greater rate of survival than individuals that did not- two to four times greater, in fact (Green 2). The researchers looked for qualitative signs that individuals were engaged in spiritual thought or action, such as mentions of God or prayer. Ironson and her team of researchers found some patients who felt that they were "chosen by God and found meaning in HIV, feeling that they had gotten HIV to help others (Ironson)."


In an APA (American Psychological Association) article, Kenneth I. Pargament is asked a few questions about his field of study: the analysis of religion's role in mental health. When asked how psychologists used religion and spirituality in clinical practices, Pargament says that for years, psychology strayed away from religion and spiritual practice in clinical practice. But now, psychologists are developing and analyzing ways a variety of spiritually integrated approaches to treatment (Pargament). These programs are developed to help people cope with things such as depression, divorce, and anxiety. Some issues that come with integrating religion into treatment would be that no one is really neutral with religion and ideology, everyone has an opinion. So care must be personalized towards each patient if it is to be done this way.

Works Cited

Anita Rao and Frank Stasio. "Is Religion Good For Your Health?" WUNC. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2016.

APA, and Kenneth I. Pargament, PhD. "What Role Do Religion and Spirituality Play in Mental Health." American Psychological Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2016.

Fletcher, M.s. Dale. "Spirituality and Your Health-Understanding the Connection." Spirituality and Health - Understanding the Connection (n.d.): n. pag. Faith and Health Connection. Dale Fletcher MS, 2009. Web.

Green, Emma. "How Spirituality Helps People Survive." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, n.d. Web. 26 May 2016.

MeetMindful. "Navigating Relationships as a Spiritual Person."Spirituality & Health Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2016.

Moore, Thomas. "Care of the Soul: Spiritual Disorders." Spirituality & Health Magazine. N.p., May-June 2015. Web. 26 May 2016.

N.p., n.d. Web. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov%2Fpmc%2Farticles%2FPMC1305900%2F

Prakash B. Behere, Anweshak Das, Richa Yadav, and Aniruddh P. Behere. NCBI. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, n.d. Web. 26 May 2016.

Prakash B Behere, Anweshak Das, Richa Yadav, Aniruddh P Behere. "Religion and Mental Health." Indian Journal of Psychiatry. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2016.