It doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, or Buddhist, spirituality equals better mental health, according to a study at the University of Missouri. The mental health boost exists even if you’re not a regular participant in organized religious activities.
“In many ways, the results of our study support the idea that spirituality functions as a personality trait,” said Dan Cohen, assistant teaching professor of religious studies and one of the co-authors of the study. “With increased spirituality people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe. What was interesting was that frequency of participation in religious activities or the perceived degree of congregational support was not found to be significant in the relationships between personality, spirituality, religion and health.
“Our prior research shows that the mental health of people recovering from different medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury, appears to be related significantly to positive spiritual beliefs and especially congregational support and spiritual interventions,” said Cohen. “Spiritual beliefs may be a coping device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress.”
Cohen believes spirituality may help people’s mental health by reducing their self-centeredness and developing their sense of belonging to a larger whole. Many different faith traditions encourage spirituality though they use different names for the process. A Christian monk wouldn’t say he had attained Nirvana, nor would a Buddhist monk say he had communed with Jesus Christ, but they may well be referring to similar phenomena.
Researchers also believe that healthcare providers could take advantage of the correlation between religious beliefs and health by tailoring treatments and rehabilitation programs to accommodate a patient’s spiritual inclinations.
“Health workers may also benefit from learning how to minimize the negative side of a patient’s spirituality, which may manifest itself in the tendency to view misfortune as a divine curse,” Cohen said.
As the authors note, spiritual interventions such as religious-based counseling, meditation, and forgiveness protocols may enhance spiritually-based beliefs, practices, and coping strategies in positive ways.
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