Spirituality correlates to better mental health regardless of religion: researchers

Despite differences in rituals and beliefs among the world's major religions, spirituality often enhances health regardless of a person's faith, according to University of Missouri researchers. The MU researchers believe that health care providers could take advantage of this correlation between health – particularly mental health – and spirituality by tailoring treatments and rehabilitation programs to accommodate an individual's spiritual inclinations.

"In many ways, the results of our study support the idea that spirituality functions as a personality trait," said Dan Cohen, assistant teaching professor of religious studies at MU and one of the co-authors of the study. "With increased spirituality people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe. 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."

The MU study used the results of three surveys to determine if correlations existed among participants' self-reported mental and physical health, personality factors, and spirituality in Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants. Across all five faiths, a greater degree of spirituality was related to better , specifically lower levels of neuroticism and greater extraversion. Forgiveness was the only spiritual trait predictive of mental health after personality variables were considered.

"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," said Cohen. "Spiritual beliefs may be a coping device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress."

Cohen believes spirituality may help people's mental health by reducing their self-centeredness and developing their sense of belonging to a larger whole. Many different traditions encourage spirituality though they use different names for the process. A Christian monk wouldn't say he had attained Nirvana, nor would a Buddhist monk say he had communed with Jesus Christ, but they may well be referring to similar phenomena.

"Health workers may also benefit from learning how to minimize the negative side of a patient's spirituality, which may manifest itself in the tendency to view misfortune as a divine curse." As the authors note, spiritual interventions such as religious-based counseling, meditation, and forgiveness protocols may enhance spiritually-based beliefs, practices, and coping strategies in positive ways.

The benefits of a more spiritual personality may go beyond an individual's mental health. Cohen believes that the selflessness that comes with enhances characteristics that are important for fostering a global society based on the virtues of peace and cooperation.

More information: The paper, "Relationships among Spirituality, Religious Practices, Personality Factors, and Health for Five Different Faiths" was published in the Journal of Religion and Health.

Related Stories

Distinct 'God spot' in the brain does not exist

Apr 19, 2012

Scientists have speculated that the human brain features a "God spot," one distinct area of the brain responsible for spirituality. Now, University of Missouri researchers have completed research that indicates spirituality ...

More than 20 percent of atheist scientists are spiritual

May 05, 2011

More than 20 percent of atheist scientists are spiritual, according to new research from Rice University. Though the general public marries spirituality and religion, the study found that spirituality is a separate idea – ...

Religious beliefs focus too much on self

Jan 17, 2008

Moving away from traditional religious beliefs to trendy, self-focused religions and spirituality is not making young adults happier, according to new research.

Religion and healthcare should mix, study says

Oct 23, 2007

Research shows that religion and spirituality are linked to positive physical and mental health; however, most studies have focused on people with life threatening diseases. A new study from the University of Missouri-Columbia ...

Recommended for you

Fairness is in the brain

3 minutes ago

Ever wondered how people figure out what is fair? Look to the brain for the answer. According to a new Norwegian brain study, people appreciate fairness in much the same way as they appreciate money for themselves, ...

Something in the way we move

14 minutes ago

Being depressed is depressing in itself and makes you feel even worse. That is one reason why it is so hard to break out of depressive conditions.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

casualjoe
not rated yet Aug 22, 2012
This is something I strongly believe.
Science has shown us that we are all part of this same incredible existence. Surely if everybody can realise we are all in this together, then peaceful coexistence would follow.

The physics allowed for us to be here, it didn't have to, but it did! I mean seriously.. how amazing is that?!?

Life is brimming with so much wonder yet western society's seem to have lost their way, in the pursuit of man made hedonism or man made money. There is no comparison, nature is everything.

In schools there should be less emphasis on separate subjects, and more emphasis on how the subjects all relate to one another, to encourage critical thinking in a context that more closely resembles our beautifully interrelated reality.