Is the sidelining of religion a root cause of our mental health crisis?

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Most of us would agree that reading expands the mind, while cultivating faith can uplift the spirit. These transformative pursuits, each in their own way, contribute to our personal growth and enrichment.

Religious magazines and newspapers are a way to reach people suffering from mental health problems and give them a message of hope. There is often stigma surrounding this topic that causes additional and needless pain to both the sufferer and those around them. This can persist for years and through generations.

I see a nationwide mental health problem that isn't receiving the understanding nor the help it deserves.

It is no exaggeration to claim that Britain is in the grip of a mental health crisis. Millions admit to having suffered, or currently suffering, from anxiety and despair, which medical statistics can confirm in grim detail.

In a Unicef report commissioned by the Department for Education, a culture of "compulsive consumerism" was cited as a major contributing factor to the onset of mental illness and the breakdown of the family structure.

Religion and spirituality have been sidelined, and this may be one of the root causes of our mental health crisis.

The great psychologist Carl Jung always wrote in support of the benefits of embracing meditation and a spiritual framework for clients who had suffered trauma and needed healing of the psyche. The UK's mental health crisis could be reduced by reintroducing spirituality instead of focusing on material gain.

Religion can sometimes offer a sense of purpose to people in despair. Belonging to a religious community can also reduce isolation and provide emotional and social connections.

In essence, a spiritual balance could be summarised as looking for the good and drawing on the positive to outweigh the negative.

What we focus on, we tend to get more of. Doom and gloom become a self-perpetuating and ever-widening cycle of negativity. Advertising and marketing also play a large part in the deliberate manufacture of discontent to create needy revenue streams out of stimulated consumerism.

When greed is nurtured and contentment attacked, what chance does peace of mind have?

Readers send me letters expressing their feelings and talking about grief after being inspired by stories in religious magazines.

This is how media can be very helpful to society. Newspapers and magazines give people a chance to speak about grief.

It was while leading talks in hospitals and prisons that I first realised how writing can help people better express their feelings. People suffering from war trauma and other forms of PTSD often develop problems with addiction; they drop out of society and too frequently fall foul of the law.

The response to inspirational literature was very positive. Practical reports of how people can rebuild their lives from the ruins of drug addiction or depression, and in turn, help others do the same.

I have observed countless people become able to recover and get well.

This experience made me want to set up a publishing company to reach more people in need and give them a chance to voice their feelings.

If people lock their pain in, it's not good. For example, my elderly grandfather's suicide was brought about by war trauma at sea that he was never able to talk about. The sinking of the ship he served on and the drowning of many comrades and passengers haunted him years after the event.

Being able to talk about traumatic events is vital to the healing process. Too many former members of the armed forces live haunted lives after being mentally scarred. Conversation can break the isolation. Even Prince Harry has recently encouraged people to talk about grief and their mental health.

I believe that problems with modern society are making it difficult for us to fully comprehend, contextualise, and work through our grief. The first symptom? Having to be busy, busy, busy.

Our modern obsession with being busy is not always wise when we'd be better off focusing on just being. Busy keeps thoughts of discontent at bay, but only temporarily. Just being and just being still can be revolutionary. It often reveals what we are really being too busy not to think about.

Spirituality could bridge this divide, even if it may be a different kind of spirituality than what was more common twenty, fifty, or a hundred years ago.

Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous thrive by not enforcing any specific brand of religion, but at the same time, they use their literature and philosophy to actively encourage viewing mental health from a spiritual perspective. There is no doubt that they save many lives through this open-door approach.

Pick and mix attitudes toward religious teachings may be frowned upon by devotees, fundamentals, and fanatics, but a "take what you need, leave the rest" approach to studying any creed may be the key to peace and unity.

Dismissing all religions is harmful to a progressive society, not to mention scientifically worthless - it's throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Our current avoidance of embracing the clear benefits religion and spirituality have to offer has led to a materialistic society, which may be partly to blame for the rising numbers of mental health issues in growing numbers of people.

This spiritual-phobia coupled with the mainstream media's relentless focus on bad news is ultimately bad for your happiness and your mental health.

A spiritual dimension to living, offering a well-argued alternative viewpoint, challenges our personal and collective values, reminding us that we are all more than what we accumulate. Theology and faith journalism have a place in the era of new media and help pave a way out of a commercialised rat race.

Whether you identify with religion or not, there is a fundamental honesty contained in the teachings of most faith-based communities when they warn people against the empty pursuit of materialism and attaching oneself too completely to any of the world's fleeting and ultimately finite pleasures.

My experience has been that by delivering beneficial newspapers and magazines through armed forces chaplaincies, hospitals, prisons, and community centers, a message of hope can be effectively offered and shared.

Good communication is a great healer.

As long as religious people put the needs of genuinely helping others ahead of promoting their religious beliefs, all is good. After all, a faith-themed magazine in a hospital or a war zone can lift the spirits if responsibly presented.

More help is needed in treating mental health and not just relying on church groups and the well-intentioned voluntary sector to muddle on indefinitely. I believe the media can do much more than being a mirror to our society, and can be a leader for beneficial change.

Duncan Williams is outreach director for the Christian Free Press and has worked for Son Christian Media here in the UK and Recovery Network Radio in the United States. He has recently spoken out about the power of inspirational publications, and religious publications generally, to help those who are beset with mental health issues. He writes here in the run-up to Monday 24 July, The Big Listen, a day when we share the importance of listening and taking the time for one another. Find out how you can become a better listener with our SHUSH listening tips - #TalkToUs