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Posted on May 1, 2019

Spirituality and Religion’s Role in Mental Health

May is Mental Health Month

May is the Nation’s 70th Mental Health Month, and EternalCore.org is joining with Mental Health America (MHA) and its state affiliates to broaden awareness. Using #4Mind4Body as their theme, MHA will explore how spirituality and religion, humor, animal companionship, recreation, and work-life balance may be of particular interest to people working to improve mental health.

Spirituality and Religion

MHA says, “regardless of whether you rely on meditation, yoga or religion, caring for your soul is an important part of taking care of yourself that can improve physical and mental health along the way.”

We reported on this in an earlier post about prayer, faith, and mental health, wherein we considered Dr. Jeff Levin’s statement that “Religious participation is a strong statistically significant determinant of overall mental health, positive well-being, and healthy psychological functioning,” Still, we wrote, “among all factors and all faiths, the most common factor was prayer.”

So the problem may be trying to define being religious and/or being spiritual. In one study by Art Raney, Daniel Cox, and Robert P. Jones, Ph.D.,  they separate the two this way by stating that “Americans fall into the following four categories:

  • 29% are both spiritual and religious;
  • 18% are spiritual but not religious;
  • 22% are not spiritual but religious; and
  • 31% are neither spiritual nor religious.”
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In their research “Searching for Spirituality in the U.S.,” they explained that the relationship between spirituality, which is more personal and “connected to something larger than oneself, and religion, which includes attending services, is very complex these days. They stated, “Most Americans who are spiritual but not religious still identify with a religious tradition. 

MHA suggests, “religious and spiritual activities can affect body chemistry and brain activity.” Citing five studies, MHA shares these findings

  • Through E. Mohandas’ Neurobiology of spirituality, they explained, “Spiritual practices like meditation are linked to increased levels of feel-good chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins; and decreased levels of cortisol and noradrenaline, which are associated with stress.”
  • Findings presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in 2000 showed that of the “people receiving treatment at a mental health facility, more than 80% used religious beliefs or activities to cope with daily difficulties or frustrations; 65% reported that religion helped them to cope with symptom severity, and 30% indicated that religion gave them purpose to keep living.”
  • The Journal of Affective Disorders reports, “U.S. military veterans who identified themselves as being highly religious or spiritual showed high levels of gratitude, purpose in life, and post-traumatic growth, and lower risk of depression, suicidal thinking, and alcohol abuse than their lesser or non-spiritual/religious peers.”
  • Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan, during a 14-year study, found that people who attended religious services regularly had a 22% lower risk of depression. They concluded: “Attending religious services at least monthly has a protective effect against major depression.”
  • Research about young-adult members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has found those devout followers who read scripture both reward the brain and stimulate positive feelings.

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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 of references.

Consideration for Those With Chronic Health Conditions

MHA offered four more studies about the body-mind connection, suggesting that chronic illness affects mental health.

  • For those born with heart disease, being religious or spiritual leads to healthier behaviors, a better quality of life, and higher life satisfaction. (see International Journal of Cardiology, January 2019)
  • Religious beliefs related to meaning, peace, faith, and spirituality “were associated with reduced suicide risk and better mental health in people getting dialysis treatments.” (see Comprehensive Psychiatry, August 2017)
  • The publication, Cancer, offers research that shows positive mental health outcomes in people receiving cancer treatment when they have a sense of meaning, purpose, or connection to something larger than themselves.
  • MHR also stated, “Faith communities can provide social connections and support to individuals living with chronic illnesses and those who care for them. Some religious organizations have respite programs available to assist with caregiving.”


Share Your Experiences With Others Through Social Media at #4MIND4BODY

Mental Health America is collecting suggestions through social media so people can learn from each other about how they stay well. They ask:

Share your favorite inspirational verses and tell us how you incorporate spirituality or religion into your life by posting with #4mind4body” on your own social media platforms. When you use their #4mind4body, they will automatically collect your Twitter and Instagram posts and place them at www.mentalhealthamerica.net/4mind4body. Go there to see what others have already shared.

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