The connection or lack thereof of mental health, happiness, and religion or spirituality is a much-studied and debated topic that has some obvious sensitivities that I will try my best to be aware of. With that, I will share my personal thoughts and experiences and encourage you to do the same.
What is spirituality?
I define spirituality as the belief and practice in taking steps to feel your best. I know this is overly simple, but that’s on purpose.
Feeling good is the ultimate destination of spirituality; there are many roads to get there, but the ultimate goal is to feel good.
So what are those various roads and how do we define them?
They all involve the ways in which people fulfill what they hold to be the purpose of their lives, in a search for a sense of connectedness to the universe and ultimately themselves.
Spirituality has a universality that extends across creed and culture, and I believe it to be the unseen fabric that connects us all.
It’s important to start this conversation by remembering that we are a modern group of people living in a certain time with specific biases, so the lens from which we see these topics will be a bias based on those factors and our own experiences. For example, religion and spirituality were defined and perceived very differently many, many years ago. At one time, belief in religion or a god was considered a mental illness. Jean Charcot and Sigmund Freud linked religion with neurosis. DSM3 portrayed religion negatively, by suggesting that religious and spiritual experiences are examples of psychopathology.
We have come a very long way since then.
Recent research and my personal experience has led me to believe that having a structural belief system of faith in something is a critical component in living a purposeful life.
Many experts strongly suggest that to many, religion and spirituality are resources that help them to cope with the stresses in life, including mental and physical illness at times. Many psychiatrists now believe that religion and spirituality are important in the life of their patients. The importance of spirituality in mental health is now widely accepted. The Royal College of Psychiatrists, London, has a special group on Psychiatry and Spirituality. The American College of Graduate Medical Education mandates in its special requirements for residency training in psychiatry, that all programs must provide training in religious and spiritual factors that can influence mental health.
The World Psychiatric Association recently established a section on psychiatry and religion.
Even with these advances, the importance of religion and spirituality are not sufficiently recognized by the psychiatric community. I think that for anyone who has dealt with the challenges of mental health issues or illnesses, having a belief system or guiding star that helps you see outside of yourself and connect with your higher herself or God, or any other label that gives you a sense of calm or purpose, is a good thing.
From what I have been able to discover in my own research, very few psychiatrists make use of religion and spirituality in a therapeutic situation—which is understandable, as the line could become blurred between science and religion or spirituality. I do know, though, that there are many therapists who privately have religious or spiritual beliefs but do not bring them into their practice. Please do share if you have worked with a healer or therapist that has been more fluid in their approach in topic and conversations.
Happy was created as a safe community to have meaningful conversations around the topics that matter to you most. Please engage with others in a way you are most conformable and allow your experiences to help guide others through the challenges we all experience.