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Do spirituality and religion benefit mental health?

spirituality and mental health

It's common for people to wonder whether spirituality or religion impacts mental health in any way. The answer is yes. A growing number of studies show that spirituality is beneficial to our mental health.

A 2020 review combining 48 longitudinal studies found that people who engage in religious activities and those who consider religion important enjoy better mental health than others who do not.

But in case you're wondering, the benefits are not limited to any particular spiritual practice or religion. “Spirituality” in this sense is the belief that there's a higher power and that you're connected to this power. On the other hand, “religious” means identifying with any organized religion (such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.) and engaging in activities with people of that same religion.

Now, note that spirituality doesn't translate to being religious. For example, some people are highly spiritual and believe there's a supreme force in the universe that controls everything, and it makes them feel better. But they do not believe in Jehovah, Mohammed, or any organized religion. They cultivate their spirituality personally through nature, art, or otherwise. And there are those who worship publicly with members of the same faith.

Whatever way spirituality or religion is practiced, research shows there are mental health benefits to gain.

Spirituality and mental health research on the brain

Lisa Miller, a professor of psychology and education, had earlier conducted a study in 2013 to validate the connection between spirituality, religion and mental health. The research found that people who value spirituality dearly are 80% less likely to become addicted and 60% less likely to experience depression. This holds true for various types of religion.

What made her research even more interesting was the brain imaging of the participants she recorded to see how spirituality affects the brain. While the participants listened to their own stories of some spiritual experience, there was less activity in the left inferior parietal lobe, a region involved with emotional processing.

This lower activity indicates that spirituality helps people to better cope with stress.

What's more, brain scans showed that the right brain cortex was thicker in patients who valued religion or spirituality. Interestingly, this cortex is thinner in people with or at high risk of depression.

The bottom line

The pieces of evidence that spirituality and religion support mental health are now hard to deny. Best part? You can practice spirituality however you deem fit.

And this is one of the reasons my practice supports all types of spirituality. Whether it's Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, yoga, meditation, or your personal connection with the universe, I respect whatever my clients find helpful.

Whatever spirituality means to you, let's explore it and see how we can use it to improve your mental health and overall sense of well-being.

Get in touch now.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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