The Mental Health Benefits of Religion & Spirituality
Religion and spirituality are both rooted in trying to understand the meaning of life and, in some cases, how a relationship with a higher power may influence that meaning. While religion and spirituality are similar in foundation, they are very different in practice.
Religion is an organized, community-based system of beliefs, while spirituality resides within the individual and what they personally believe. “The idea of religion and spirituality is like a rectangle versus a square. Within religion there is spirituality, but if you have spirituality, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have religion,” says someone who practices both religion and spirituality.
Both religion and spirituality can have a positive impact on mental health. In some ways, they provide the same impact. For example: Both religion and spirituality can help a person tolerate stress by generating peace, purpose and forgiveness. But benefits generally vary between the two due to their different nature.
Mental Health Benefits of Religion
Religion gives people something to believe in, provides a sense of structure and typically offers a group of people to connect with over similar beliefs. These facets can have a large positive impact on mental health—research suggests that religiosity reduces suicide rates, alcoholism and drug use. Here are some of religion’s main mental health benefits.
- Initiates social connections with other members
- Creates a sense of belonging to a group
- Offers trustworthy and safe social engagement
- Helps people to cope with difficult life situations (i.e. a ceremony for the loss of a loved one)
- Provides structure, regularity and predictability
- Allows for time to rest as well as holidays and other special times of the year
- Provides guidelines to live by (i.e. the importance of doing the right thing)
- Teaches compassion, forgiveness and gratitude
- Identifies life lessons, even from challenging situations
Mental Health Benefits of Spirituality
Spirituality is a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves—it helps a person look within and understand themselves while also figuring out the greater answer of how they fit in to the rest of the world. In other words: It helps people understand their interpretation of the meaning of life.
Spirituality also incorporates healthy practices for the mind and body, which positively influences mental health and emotional wellbeing. Here are some of those benefits:
- Enhances a person’s sense of self and empowerment through the choice to decide what their practice looks like
- Focuses on an individual’s connection to what they believe in and their own personal growth
- Accepts any person, whether they are part of a religion or not
- Encourages meditation and self-reflection
- Leads to a meaningful life philosophy (i.e. feeling connected to others, nature or art)
- Prompts expression in any form such as art, poetry, myth or religious practice
Unity with Surroundings
- Renews a sense of belonging in the world
- Inspires appreciation and awareness of a person’s interaction with the physical environment
These mental health benefits are not limited to their respective categories—individuality isn’t exclusive to religion, just like spirituality can include a sense of community in some instances. The takeaway is that: If presented in a supportive way, religion and spirituality can help people improve their mental health and promote recovery.
To learn more about how faith and spirituality can benefit mental health, go to www.nami.org/faithnet.