Spirituality seems to be the concept that evokes a neutral response however faith and religion like politics can arouse very passionate feelings. Many see it as a source of division whilst for those who are practicing a particular faith it is a huge comforter, inspiration and resilience in the face of life’s challenges.
There’s a lot already out there with various studies and reports on the impact role of faith, spirituality and religion on mental health.
- Spirituality, religion and mental illness
- The impact of spirituality on mental health (literature review)
- Religion and Mental Health: Current Findings
On the other hand, religion in particular has many critics, some understandable on the face of things. One famous critic who’s been very influential on contemporary western society was. He felt Christianity served to pacify its followers in the face of the inequalities they faced by placating them with the belief in the rewards to be gained in the afterlife.
As mentioned in the Rethink Mental Illness factsheet, “some religious beliefs may not be helpful if you are unwell. They may lead you to feel guilty or in need forgiveness. This may impact on your mental health”. Additionally, the danger of religious practice is when it's forced onto people to think and behave in a certain way, be it parents and their children or other authority figures. If there's pressure to conform which goes against how the individual wants to be or do then this is likely to cause stress and unhappiness. The knock-on effect is the things people do to defend and relieve themselves of the angst being felt. This can take many forms such as broken relationships, addiction and self harming behaviour. With all forms of stress if it persists it eventually causes health problems, physical and or mental.
Furthermore, more harm than good can be caused when a person drives into religion to avoid, deny or escape difficult painful experiences, rather than using religious practice to support the healing of their emotional wounds.
Faith, religion and spirituality in many ways serve a human need and modern living in all its sophistication can never match that need to be connected and have a sense of deeper meaning in life. However, everyday living is never straight forward and people experience difficult life experiences which include relationships with faith, religion and spirituality. So rather than being a source for enhancing our wellbeing, it can induce stress to adversely impact our mental health. If this is the case, then it would be advisable to do some work to explore and work through the difficulties being faced and the changes that it inevitably brings.
For a more therapeutic reflection on how stressful life experiences can challenge our religious and spiritual beliefs read Terri Daniels article: Losing Faith vs. Gaining Perspective: How Trauma and Loss Can Create a More Spacious Form of Spiritual Awareness.