Ever since Sigmund Freud and his mentor Jean-Martin Charcot associated religion with neurosis and hysteria, religion and mental health have estranged themselves from each other. There was a time when religious institutions were the ones responsible for caring for the mentally ill. Still, due to the dissenting opinions made by mental health professionals about the adverse effects of religion on mental health, it created a great divide between the two.
So this begs the question, is religion good or bad for mental health? Well, the answer is not as simple as it may sound. Just like the proverbial coin, there are two sides to this issue. There are benefits that religion brings to the table, and consequently, there are downsides to it. Religion is like a double-edged sword that could cut both ways.
Negative Effects of Religion on Mental Health
Mental health professionals have maintained that some religions have a negative effect on a person’s mental health. They have argued that religious beliefs are often irrational, promote dependency and emotional instability. A journal written by psychiatrist Albert Ellis reported an undeniable causal relationship between religion and mental illness.
Certain religious beliefs are downright harmful to our mental stability, such as the notion that health conditions are punishments from God, are linked to depression and a poor quality of life. In extreme situations, strict obedience to a religion’s ideology may cause fatal outcomes such as suicides.
Excessive involvement in religious activities can sometimes be harmful not only to the person’s mental health but also to their personal lives. Religious conflict and differences in religiosity often cause marital friction. Reliance on prayers and rituals can delay medical and psychiatric help, worsening a person’s mental condition.
Some religions encourage their members to hate non-believers instead of advocating love and compassion. These kinds of religious beliefs and preachings could increase stress since religious factors become more impacting as life stress increases. Likewise, people who believe that God is punishing them or are questioning God’s love for them are at a greater risk for depression and other mental illnesses.
Many people suffer from anxiety caused by religious beliefs and practices. The reason is mainly due to the induction of guilt and fear. A person who holds strong religious beliefs may be immune to this stress, but those who have weak beliefs or question their beliefs may feel heightened anxiety.
Positive Effects of Religion and Spirituality on Mental Health
While there are studies that say religion is more harmful than good to a person’s mental well-being, a vast pool of research refutes that religion, or more specifically spirituality, is beneficial to a person’s mental health. A 2013 study on patients treated with mental illness shows that those who believe in God responded better to treatment compared to those who didn’t have something to believe in.
People who are committed to their faith can cope better when faced with a stressful situation. One of the reasons is that they have a more profound sense of purpose and a greater understanding of the meaning of life. Additionally, the religious community that a person belongs to can provide much-needed support and encouragement during tough times.
Are Religion and Spirituality the Same?
Spirituality and religion may be linked, but they are not the same. Spirituality is broader and more general and can include many different things. You can be spiritual without being religious. But what is essential is that both religion and spirituality can help a person develop optimism, peace, hope, and inner strength.
Both religion and spirituality positively affect a person’s mental health, and their impact is pretty similar. They both promote purpose, forgiveness, and peace. But it is important to emphasize that religion and spirituality are two different things, so their mental health benefits likewise vary.
Mental Health Benefits of Religion
Religion is associated with a specific faith or tradition. It is something that people believe in, something that gives structure, and offers an opportunity for people to connect based on similar beliefs. Research suggests that religion somewhat reduces suicide, substance abuse, and alcoholism. Here are some of the benefits of religion:
- Provides regularity and predictability
- Allows regular rest days and holidays and other special time of the year
- Ceremonies help people cope up with losses (death of a loved one)
- Promotes social engagement
- Sense of belongingness to a group
- Creates connections with other members
- Preaches gratitude, compassion, and love for one another
- Treats challenging situation as a life lesson and opportunity to learn
- Guides the person with lessons to live by
Mental Health Benefits of Spirituality
The contextual meaning of spirituality is the sense of connection to something larger than ourselves. It is understanding the purpose and meaning that we always look for in life. It is knowing our worth and our value. It is a significant factor in maintaining our emotional well-being and mental health. Here are the benefits that spirituality can offer:
- It promotes a purposeful life philosophy.
- Encourages self-reflection
- Enhances self-expression through art, poetry, and religious practice
- Focus on the individual’s personal growth.
- Promotes acceptance, without any discrimination, regardless of religious affinity
- Improves a person’s sense of self
Spirituality and religion play a critical role in every person’s life. We should be aware of the effects of religion and spirituality on our mental health, may it be positive or otherwise. Religion can definitely play a positive role when it comes to mental health therapy, but it is not a one size fits all solution to mental health & in many cases utilizing religion over medication can be fatal. Spirituality used along with the proper therapies and medications have proven to show the most success when dealing with mental health.