Search Website

The Impact of Spirituality on Mental Health & Wellbeing: The Stats and Studies

The Impact of Spirituality on Mental Health & Wellbeing: The Stats and Studies

Meaning of Spirituality

Spirituality, derived from the word ‘spirit’, can be expressed by each individual distinctively, depending on their spiritual and religious affiliations. Essentially, spirituality is the belief in a higher being, acquiring us with hope and patience during times of difficulty. This gives us a sense of purpose, meaning and value. It takes us out of indulgence in worldly materialism and allows us to focus on our souls’ demands, as opposed to our physical needs.

Spirituality and Mental health

Since spirituality focuses on the inner self, or ‘spirit’, it can positively impact mental health, because spirituality seeks to maintain a sense of balance in our internal world – the mind, the body and the spirit. This has even been recognised by mental health services, which have started to utilise spiritual activity in the recovery process of mental illness. Verghese, in 2008, in his research article on ‘spirituality and mental health’, has stated that several research reports carried out on patients with mental illness reported that religion and spirituality were significant factors utilised in their healing journey. The study also showed the essential role spirituality played in managing daily stress. Moreover, an original research article by Bożek, Nowak & Blukacz, in 2020, was performed on 595 students from six different universities in Poland to see whether there is a link between spirituality and mental health. The proposed research findings showed a clear association between spirituality and psychological well-being.

Spiritual health care has become a vital resource used by psychiatrists to treat people with mental health disorders, whether the individual ascribes to a religious belief or not. During the early 19th century, psychiatry was recognised to have a close connection with religion, and it was religious institutions that took care of treating people with mental disorders. However, this changed when Jean-Martin Charcot and his student Sigmund Freud linked religion with hysteria and neurosis to produce a controversy in the use of faith in mental health therapy. As a result, religion was associated with irrationality, dependency, and outdated. Slowly, the importance of religious spiritual care is again being recognised in mental health centres and utilised as a form of therapy. 

Spirituality and Wellbeing

Numerous studies have shown a positive correlation between mental health and health-related behaviours. These studies primarily present the direct relationship between spirituality and health-related behaviours and between mental health and health-related behaviours. This forms an indirect association between spirituality and mental health. The term health-related behaviours are actions that are performed by individuals that have an impact on their wellbeing. Bożek, Nowak and Blukacz, in their research article, categorise this behaviour type into four groups: (1) habits of nutrition; (2) prophylaxis (prevention); (3) positive attitude towards coping with emotional overload, anxiety and depression; (4) pro-health practices, such as sleeping, relaxation and physical activity habits.

The study proposed that spirituality has a great impact on the psychological well-being of an individual through its direct association with health-related behaviours. The research also demonstrated a direct correlation between spirituality and psychological well-being and concluded it is an indicator of psychological well-being preceding health-related behaviour. Other studies have also established this, such as Jesse and Reed, 2004; Park et al., 2009 and Unterrainer et al., 2014.

Do You Need Religion To Be Spiritual?

In 2001, Koenig, McCullough and Larson, in their research on Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health [1], presented that two-thirds of 93 observational studies performed which examine the relationship between religion and depression showed rates of depressive disorders to be significantly less in more religious individuals. This is because more practising individuals tend to carry out health-related behaviours instinctively. For instance, nutrition habits (group 1) may be observed through fasting, practised by multiple faiths. Secondly, religion provides us with purpose and value and thus bestows us with a positive mental attitude (group 3). This is established through religious practices such as praying, reflection, and meditation, which come under relaxation (group 4) and play a role in prophylaxis (group 2).

Staks Rosch, a vocal atheist, humanist, and Jedi, declares depression and suicide to be a serious issue amongst atheists and, in comparison, is less prevalent among religious groups. He says, “I acknowledge that while ignorance really is bliss and people may be happier when they believe in magical paradises after death…” Again, this suggests that religion gives life purpose, meaning, and a healthier and happier mental state.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that this does not mean religious individuals do not suffer from mental illness. Everyone suffers, albeit differently, a phase of depression in their life, irrespective of whether they follow a religion or not. This may be due to the grief of losing a loved one, discrimination, loneliness or many other reasons. Thus, although spirituality can be obtained in different ways, religion is more effective during emotional healing. We must also remember that many other determinants can increase the risk of depression apart from irreligion, including genetic, developmental, and environmental factors.

Spirituality in Islam

Spirituality in Islam isn’t confined to emotion, but it is a journey of love, devotion and growth to the Creator of the Spirit, Almighty God. The spiritual essence of tranquillity, peace and comfort is instilled in the heart by God through acts of His obedience. Islam emphasises the spirit’s health through self-awareness and development and this is represented by several ahadith one of which narrated by Imam Ali, “Whoever knows himself, knows his lord.” [2] This is focused on aspects such as gratitude (shukr), patience (sabr), certainty (yaqeen), and trust (tawakkul) in God’s plans.

Not only does Islam focus on the necessity of spirituality in maintaining the health and well-being of the human mind and soul it also recognises other factors, such as diet. There is a hadith narrated by Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) where one of the Prophets complained to God of their grief, so God Almighty ordered him to eat grapes [3]. It is unfortunate that Muslims greatly neglect mental health and well-being and perceive mental illness as a weakness, despite the priority it is given in Islam.

Conclusion

Spirituality plays a significant role in an individual’s mental and physical well-being. Islam provides clear guidance on how this can be attained through supplications and mindfulness. Unfortunately, not enough emphasis is put on religion-linked spiritual health care. The psychiatrists either don’t follow a religion or are less practising than their patients most of the time. Hence, focusing on the spiritual demand of the patient will make a great impact. 

[1] Koenig, H.G., McCullough, M.E. & Larson, D.B. (2001). Handbook of Religion and Health. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 514-554.

[2] Mizan al-Hikma, vol. 3, p. 1877

[3] Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 14, p. 460

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.