In the past decade or so, the impact of religion and spirituality on mental health has been getting more attention. Research shows that religion and/or spirituality can have a positive impact on mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), religion can help a person tolerate stress by creating peace, purpose, and forgiveness (2016). Living a life with no purpose can lead some people to the existential crisis of questioning the meaning to life and if this remains unanswered long enough can lead to depression. Depression is an epidemic affecting 1 in 13 US adults (Psychology Today 2020). Those who practice religion or who are spiritual often find meaning, purpose, and hope through their religion or spirituality. Research shows that those with church attendance are associated with lower rates of depression (Olszewski, 1994). Severe depression can lead to suicide. Suicide has increased by 50% since 2000 (Psychology Today 2020). Research suggests that religiosity reduces suicide rates as well as alcohol abuse and drug abuse (Verghese, 2008). In addition to offering people purpose, meaning, and hope, religion also offers people a sense of connectedness and community. It’s easy to feel small or alone in the giant world we live in and people are much more likely to have mental health wellness when they have naturals supports in their life such as a pastor to turn to during difficult times or a close knit Bible study group.
In addition to depression, religion and/or spirituality can also help with anxiety. One woman believes the cure for anxiety can be found in the Bible in Matthew 6:25-34 where the verses say not to worry about your life because the birds of the air and the plants in the ground are provided for and humans are even more precious to God then the birds and the plants. The verses further say that we do not add a single hour to our life by worrying, in other words, the worrying is useless. Verse 33 states that God knows what humans need and they should seek first His kingdom and His righteousness rather than spending time worrying and He will do the providing. In closing the verses say, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”. So the big questions becomes, does research back this woman’s claim? One area of research looks at the relationship between anxiety and spirituality amongst individuals who have life-threatening illness and what the research found is that those with religion or spirituality had much less anxiety than those without religion and spirituality (Margetic & Margetic, 2005).
So what do people who align with religion or spirituality do different than others? Well one difference is that those who consider themselves religious or spiritual often pray. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says pray without ceasing. When you're depressed, pray. When you’re anxious, pray. When you’re not feeling depressed or anxious, pray. Many religious or spiritual people turn to prayer when they feel out of control with an understanding that there is a higher power that is in control. This can cause a sense of peace even in the most troubling of times to know that something or someone greater than us is in control. Prayer can be a powerful coping mechanism.
Articles and Websites References in the Blog:
Olszewski, M. E., 1994, The effect of religious coping on depression and anxiety in adolescents, Valley Library, Corvallis OR.
ukst-Margetic, B., and B. Margetic, 2005, Religiosity and health outcomes: review of literature: Coll.Antropol., v. 29, no. 1, p. 365-371.