OPINION: Mental Health & the Divine? (Just a Pitch)

A look into Mental Health & Spirituality

silhouette image of person praying

“Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t so.”

– Lemony Snicket

A newly released study is tying people’s religious uncertainty and lack of faith in the divine to poor mental and psychological well-being.

This study, entitled Attachment to God and Psychological Distress: Evidence of a Curvilinear Relationship, was conducted by Matthew Henderson and Blake Kent. The conclusion came about based on a national survey’s worth of data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey.

Henderson, an assistant professor at Union University, spoke out about his perception of the end results of the study.

“A lot of research has been able to demonstrate that religious practices, like prayer and religious service attendance, can have positive effects on mental and physical health,” he said.

According to Henderson and Kent, the study confirms that people with a strong connection to God will have a significantly better psychological well-being.

Kent, an assistant professor at Westmont College, said the amount of literature tying both religion and health together is immense and is only growing.

“Attachment to God has emerged as one of the most significant, powerful influences of mental health and oftentimes more important than actual religious attendance,” he said.

It’s an interesting case to make, but one that makes sense.

Kind of.

Having just the minimal knowledge I have of the study and its findings doesn’t take away from the strength of the research. I don’t think it’s too far out of left field to see a correlation between the two. Having pure blind faith in something may seem silly to some but can offer many a sense of purpose and discipline that may have a very powerful effect on their mental and psychological well-being.

People turn to religion for all sorts of different reasons, but the reason ultimately doesn’t matter and has no negative bearing on a person’s choices. In fact, it has quite the opposite effect. So, it makes sense that having a strong faith in God (ANY God or entity) could impact both one’s spiritual and psychological happiness.

I remember asking my grandma when I was a kid what would happen if she were a “true” Christian and had been praying to the wrong God this whole time. What would happen then? Would she be damned? But her response sort of summed up, in a similar regard at least, this study’s conclusions. She told me that even on the off-chance I was right with my concern that “living by the Lord and his positive message” is still the best way to live one’s life. I thought of her and that specific instance when going through some of the research that went into this study. The positivity that can surround one’s faith and belief systems can be infectious and inspiring. So, to me it makes perfect sense that there may be a scientific connection between one’s faith and mental health.

I, however, would like to point out that I do not believe it has to necessarily be a Christian God. I think any higher power will do. So, knock yourselves out, guys.

The study does have legs and can stand on its own. So much so that two social work professors at Baylor University have received a $843,647 grant from the University of South Alabama to study faculty views regarding training students to address a patient’s spirituality in mental health treatment.

Dr. Holly Oxhandler and Dr. Clay Polson are researching this as part of four sub-projects of the university’s Spiritual and Religious Competencies Project, which aims to provide mental health professionals with the basic abilities to focus on religious and spiritual qualities in their patients’ lives.

“What we see in the research is that when clients’ religion or spirituality is ethically and effectively integrated into mental health treatment – meaning the mental health care provider assessing for this area of their lives and asking them how it relates to their mental health care or circumstances or situations, how they’re leaning on it to cope or maybe ways in which it’s been a source of pain for them in the past,” Oxhandler said.

If an uncertainty in God/Gods or a shakiness in one’s faith can have such a negative impact on one’s psychological well-being, why hasn’t someone made the connection before now? Oxhandler and Polson both feel the role of religion in one’s mental health treatment hasn’t always been addressed due to the lack of research surrounding the topic.

“Without this level of funding, I think even envisioning a project this comprehensive would be challenging,” Polson said. “This makes it possible for us to do such a large project, looking at all the disciplines.”

Both professors say the final goal of the project is to be able to help mental health professionals realize the need to integrate religion and spirituality with mental health treatment.

“We want awareness, but ultimately, the goal is to see more comfort, to see practitioners using their skills and knowledge to do this better,” Polson said.

Being aware of the power of one’s faith and beliefs may have a bigger impact on your health than you could have ever imagined. The results aren’t completely in, but they look good. Mostly. If the effects of the uncertainty of a higher power have proven to be negative and damaging to one’s mental state, it makes perfect sense. Blind faith can lay the bedrock down for a clearer and more constructive personal core. In fact, a strong faith in a higher power may very well be your best bet when trying to maintain a stable and positive psychological well-being.

8 thoughts on “OPINION: Mental Health & the Divine? (Just a Pitch)

  1. As I’ve recently become acquainted with AA and OA, I have learned that the 12-step program is situated neatly in faith…faith in any kind of a higher power… a Christian God, Buddha, the group… the important part is simply having this kind of faith in something other than yourself. And I can see how this does bring one a sense of acceptance and well-being, which would lead to feelings of joy. Great post 🙂

  2. I would guess that it makes a difference whether people are exposed to messaging about mental illness being a result of a lack of faith. For people who are getting that kind of messaging, I would think that religion could shift from being protective to being a barrier to getting effective treatment.

  3. The study finds the irreligious have poor mental health. Possibly, people with poor mental health are irreligious. They seem to step into a causality trap that researchers are trained to avoid. As an agnostic (or possibly an atheist), if my mental health provider told me to develop a faith in a higher power, I’d laugh at her as I walked out the door. As someone who has spent the past 42 years thinking deeply about spirituality, I’m not going to change my opinion just because someone told me to. Making spiritual faith a condition of therapy would do me way more harm than good. Another thing to consider is that many mental health issues are due to chemical imbalances which are corrected by medication not faith. Lastly, some of us are driven by logic, not faith. Or maybe, logic is simply what I have faith in.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: