By Luna Greenstein
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.
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:
Unity with Surroundings
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.
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