Study suggests positive impact of religion on mental health

Published 23 August 2012
Researchers in the United States have concluded that religious people have better mental health than non-believers.

The team was led by Brick Johnstone from Missouri University and included researchers at Samuel Merritt University in Pennsylvania and Via Cristi Hospital in Kansas.

The team looked at the results of three studies that interviewed Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants.

The participants were asked about their spirituality, mental and physical health, and personality traits.

They found that across the faiths, those who considered themselves more spiritual tended to have better mental health and lower levels of neuroticism.

Researcher, Professor Daniel Cohen, said that spiritual beliefs may act as a "coping device" to help people deal with stress.

He said: "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."

Professor Cohen suggested that the improvement in mental wellbeing was linked to the way in which religion makes people more focused on others and feel like they are part of the world.

"With increased spirituality, people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe," he said.

"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.

"Health workers may also benefit from learning how to minimise the negative side of a patient's spirituality, which may manifest itself in the tendency to view misfortune as a divine curse."

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