Researchers from the University of Missouri have found that spirituality may help improve mental health. Their findings have been published in the Journal of Religion and Health. The researchers questioned people from every major religious group. The participants were also asked about their physical and mental health.
The study concluded that people following any religion had better mental health. People belonging to a faith were found to be more outgoing and less likely to get stressed over minor interpersonal problems.
The researchers proposed a few reasons why religious beliefs may have a positive impact on people’s mental health by encouraging them to have a more positive outlook towards other people. According to the study, the ability to forgive others probably played the biggest factor. Religious practices encourage people to be more open-minded, forgiving and community oriented.
Dan Cohen is a University of Missouri professor of religious studies and one of the two authors of the study. Cohen said that spirituality has always been thought of as a spiritual trait. He argues that this study corroborates that point of view. People who are more spiritual tend to feel more connected their friends and family. They also have a more integrated sense of community with the rest of the world and a higher sense of purpose with their place in the universe.
Participating in various religious activities can encourage people to feel more connected with their religious communities. However, people’s participation in their community was not found to play a key role in their mental health. This finding was surprising to Cohen at first. However, it made sense to researchers afterwards. A person’s level of spirituality or outlook towards the world isn’t always correlated with their level of participation in community groups.
Previous studies have shown that spirituality has helped many people overcome major medical problems. Cohen said that a positive spiritual outlook appears to help people find the strength they need to deal with strokes, spinal cord injuries and other devastating health risks. Therefore, he said that it stands to reason that a high level of spirituality can give people the strength to overcome depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.
These findings could be beneficial for health care providers. Physicians may feel it is worthwhile to be cognizant of patients’ spiritual beliefs and find ways to incorporate them into their treatments plans. However, researchers will need to conduct additional research to determine whether or not the relationship between spirituality and mental health is simply a correlation or if one factor precipitates the other.