It’s been said before but bears repeating: Our spiritual and mental selves are not two solitudes. Rather, the pair are companionable buddies, hanging out at sporting events, attending gallery openings, even hitting the sack together every night. It’s hardly surprising, then, that another scientific study has identified a link between the duo in research that points to the significant contribution the former has to make on the latter in times of trouble.
Following on from previous studies that measured links between spirituality and well-being according to such empirical evidence as frequency of church attendance and self-scored “religiousness,” this latest research confirms a more theoretical connection among religion, spirituality and mental health.
The University of Missouri study — published in the Journal of Religion and Health — built upon data from a trio of prior surveys that undertook to find a relationship among individuals’ self-reported mental and physical health, their unique personality traits and their sense of spirituality. Survey participants were Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants.
Seven highlights from the research:
- Across the board, a meaningful correlation was identified between each of the five faiths and an improved state of mental health in the individual practicing it.
- The level of devotion a person has to his sense of spirituality was found to be directly associated with his enhanced mental health, particularly demonstrated through lower levels of neuroticism and greater levels of extroversion.
- After considering personality variables, the researchers concluded that a person’s ability to forgive another person is really the only spiritual trait that is truly predictive of his mental health.
- Analysts speculate that spirituality has a role to play in reducing people’s self-centeredness and in developing their sense of belonging to a larger whole. “With increased spirituality” says study co-author Dan Cohen, “people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe.”
- Researchers speculate that health-care providers might take advantage of this identified correlation between mental health and spirituality by customizing treatment plans according to an individual’s spiritual inclinations.
- “In many ways,” says Cohen, who’s an assistant teaching professor of religious studies at the University of Missouri, “the results of our study support the idea that spirituality functions as a personality trait.”
- The study’s authors suggest that spiritual interventions (such as religious-based counseling, meditation and so-called “forgiveness protocols”) may enhance an individual’s spiritually based beliefs, practices, and coping strategies. As such, people suffering from stress, depression or other mental anguish may genuinely benefit from an exploration of where spirituality might find a place in their lives.