“Spiritual people are more likely to be mentally ill (but at least they think life has more meaning)”, cried the Daily Mail as we entered 2013.
I was surprised and saddened when I read this article. Surprised, because my spirituality forms an essential part of my own mental health and emotional wellbeing toolkit, and saddened by the thought that headlines such as this could discourage people from building a belief system that supports their mental health in a positive way.
The article reports on research that shows people who have a spiritual understanding of life but no structured religion are more likely to experience mental health disorders than people with firm religious beliefs or no spiritual/religious beliefs at all.
The NHS published a great article in response to this news, providing more insights into the validity of the research and the conclusions drawn. Thankfully, and quite rightly, they highlight that:
“It is tempting to conclude that having a spiritual understanding of life (without a religious framework of regular worship) somehow causes more mental health problems, potentially through lack of social support increasing a person’s vulnerability.
However, it is equally valid to conclude that mental health problems cause people to develop a spiritual understanding of life, potentially through searching for alternative answers and explanations for their problems (as the American blues singer Bonnie Raitt put it, ‘Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there’)”.
Personally speaking, my mental health was at it’s worse when I no longer believed wholly in the religion that I had been brought up to believe in. In fact the contradictions and guilt that were engrained in me through my belief system to that point, had contributed to my continued depression and psychotic episodes. The break down of that belief system led me to a vulnerable place emotionally and mentally. My recovery was made largely through rebuilding my spiritual belief system to form one that sits comfortably with me.
Now, my spirituality supports my wellbeing – which is how it should be, and I refer to my experience of mental illness, not as a breakdown, but as a breakthrough.
Has spirituality or religion had an impact on your mental health in either a positive or negative way? Please share your experiences by commenting below.