Five Studies Showing How God Can Help In Mental Health

“For reasons of intellectual integrity, psychiatry cannot afford to ignore or dismiss millennia of religious and philosophical thought about the very essence of human nature, reality and existence. Nor can it fail to acknowledge the lesson of history: that even the most secure-seeming truth, religious or scientific, may be relative. To do either would be to risk the eventuality (which in some opinion may already have occurred) of psychiatry losing its human relevance and drifting out of touch with what people feel, believe and need.” 1

-Turbott (1996) in the Handbook of Religion and Mental Helath.

Have you ever asked yourself, “What are my most profound beliefs regarding the nature of God?” When you pray, do feel connected to loving, benevolent God? or does God distant and frightening? or “Can God help even me?”

The Handbook of Religion and Mental Health resource for mental health was designed as a resource for mental health professionals, religious leaders, and counselors. It explains how religious beliefs and practices connect to mental health and affect mental health care. It is filled with research on the relationship between religion and personality, depression, anxiety, psychoses, coping behavior, and successes in psychotherapy. As a reference, there are discussions on specific religions, including their perspectives on mental health.

Questions like those have been answered for more than two decades in the Handbook for Religion and Mental Health. Written to assist mental health professionals, religious professionals, and counselors the Handbook’s editors, Harold Koenig and David H. Rosmarin, wrote, “Because religious beliefs and practices are so common among the patients we see, clinicians must be aware of their influences on mental health.” Continuing they encouraged mental health professionals, “…to be aware of the growing body of scientific research that is demonstrating the enormous role that religion can play in mental health, either for better or for worse.

“While mental health professionals have for many years ignored the spiritual or religious dimension of patients’ lives, this position is no longer tenable for a competent mental health professional… We simply know too much about the positive effects that religious beliefs and practices can have in preventing mental illness or facilitating recovery to eliminate them from consideration when treating patients with depression, anxiety, or even major psychotic disorders.”

That was twenty years ago, since then many newer studies have continued to show how a God-centered connection can help improve mental health. These findings add to an increasing body of research that confirms a connection between a person’s relationship with God and their mental and physical health:

  • Research from Oregon State University shows that religion and spirituality have distinct but complementary influences on health. Religions affiliation and attendance “…helps regulate behavior and health habits, while spirituality regulates your emotions, how you feel,” said Carolyn Aldwin, a gerontology professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.” The study points to an association between “formal religious affiliation” and attending services leading to “better health habits, such as lower smoking rates and reduced alcohol consumption. Spirituality, including meditation and private prayer, helps regulate emotions, which aids physiological effects such as blood pressure.”2 Read more
  • Another study by Columbia University, “Spirituality, religion may protect against major depression by thickening brain cortex,” found that taking part in regular meditation or other spiritual practice such as prayer “actually thickens parts of the brain’s cortex, and this could be the reason those activities tend to guard against depression — especially in those at risk for the disease.”3 Read more…
  • Researchers from Baylor University found that those that those who pray with a “secure attachment to God, such that persons who pray often …derive clear mental health benefits, while those who pray to a God who is perceived as distant or unresponsive experience elevated levels of anxiety-related symptoms.” Studying the most recent Baylor Religion Survey, they examined data from more than 1500 volunteers. “For many people, God is a source of comfort and strength, says researcher Matt Bradshaw, Ph.D; and through prayer, they enter into an intimate relationship with Him and begin to feel a secure attachment. When this is the case, prayer offers emotional comfort, resulting in fewer symptoms of anxiety disorders.” Focusing on anxiety, obsession and compulsion, their study was published in Sociology of Religion and is titled “Prayer, Attachment to God, and Symptoms of Anxiety-Related Disorders among U.S. Adults.”4 Read more …
  • According to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, David H. Rosmarin, PhD, says that having a belief in God may substantially improve outcomes for some psychiatric illness. Rosmarin in ScienceDaily said, “Our work suggests that people with a moderate to high level of belief in a higher power do significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those without, regardless of their religious affiliation. Belief was associated with not only improved psychological wellbeing but decreases in depression and intention to self-harm in”5 Read more…
  • Rob Whitley, Ph.D., in Psychology Today, explained that both private and public religious belief and practices are associated with well-being, better mental and physical health. “In particular, the research suggests that higher levels of religiosity are associated with lower rates of depressionanxiety, substance use disorder, and suicidal behavior.” He offers this example, “…regular attendance at a place of worship embeds 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, radio or internet) can provide solace and comfort, which can enhance the recovery process.”6 Read more …

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Research from various universities and journals describing how to bring God into the Mental Health Equation

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If these five individual studies are not enough, Harold G Koenig, MD, in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, published a list of 84 other articles. Click “Research on Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health: A Review” to see his list.

All of these reports and more add to the growing body of research confirming a connection between a person’s perceived relationship with God and mental and physical health. The Handbook for Religion and Mental Health, suggests, “Finally, mental health professionals without religious or spiritual training must approach spiritual topics with some degree of humility and recognition of limitation. Religious professionals typically have knowledge, training, and years of experience that have prepared them to address spiritual problems.

“For example, a hospital chaplain will typically have 4 years of college, 3 years of divinity school, 2 or 3 years of clinical pastoral education, and often additional training in areas of special expertise. An uninformed secular therapist who delves into sensitive religious issues that he or she has little knowledge about or experience in may easily become the proverbial ‘bull in the china closet.’

“At times, the most sensible, sensitive, and respectful intervention that a nonreligious professional can make is to appropriately refer the patient. At other times, however, referral may not be an option because the patient refuses or because religious professionals are not immediately available. In those cases, the therapist may need to make the effort to consult a religious professional of the patient’s faith to obtain advice on how to proceed. At other times, the situation and timing may be such that the therapist must take advantage of the moment and simply intervene in a reasonable manner to the best of his or her ability. Communicating honestly with the patient about one’s lack of expertise and trepidation about proceeding, yet the desire to see the patient get help and be relieved of his or her suffering, can often accomplish a great deal; if nothing else, it will let the patient know that the therapist recognizes how important these areas are in the patient’s life and their need for attention.”7

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Learn more about how faith in God can help with mental health concerns.

Register for the Eternal Core Conference to learn more about how God can help with mental health concerns
These and many more speakers will explore faith and mental health at the
Eternal Core Conference, March 29–30, 2019, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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FOOTNOTES

1 Harold Koenig & David H. Rosmarin, Handbook of Religion and Mental Health, Academic Press, Sept. 1998, Introduction, p xxix
2
Carolyn Aldwin, “Religion, spirituality influence health in different but complementary ways,”  College of Public Health and Human Sciences, OSU
3Lisa Miller, PhDRavi Bansal, PhDPriya Wickramaratne, PhDNeuro-anatomical Correlates of Religiosity and Spirituality—A Study in Adults at High and Low Familial Risk for Depression,” JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(2):128-135.
4 Christopher G. Ellison, Matt Bradshaw, Kevin J. Flannelly, Kathleen C. G, Prayer, Attachment to God, and Symptoms of Anxiety-Related Disorders among U.S. Adults, Sociology of Religion, 2014, 75:2 208-233
5 David H. Rosmarin, Joseph S. Bigda-Peyton, Sarah J. Kertz, Nasya Smith, Scott L. Rauch, Thröstur Björgvinsson. A test of faith in God and treatment: The relationship of belief in God to psychiatric treatment outcomes. Journal of Affective Disorders, 2013; 146 (3): 441
6 Rob Whitley, Ph.D., Religion and Mental Health: What is the Link?, Psychology Today,  Dec 18, 2017
7 Harold Koenig & David H. Rosmarin, ibid,


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