Many people deal with mental health struggles in different ways. The most common are through talk therapy or medication, and sometimes a helpful combination of both. Therapy and medicine are tangible sources of healing and are generally easily accessible when finances allow. However, some people find that including some sort of spiritual practice in their mental health treatment can also be helpful.
Spirituality is not an absolute or set-in-stone practice. It can be used in various ways and can mean something different for people in many faith groups or mystical circles. Generally, it means to put trust in a power other than yourself or in an elevated version of yourself. For people who practice religion, it can mean a moment of total emotional submission to God or engaging in prayer.
Meditation, a practice of focus and mindfulness to relax and reflect on your past and present, is a well-known form of spirituality. People who are both religious and non-religious often engage in meditation. Manifestation is also a more recently popular form of spirituality, similar to the law of attraction. All of these forms of spiritual practice can benefit a person when they’re trying to move past trauma or improve an aspect of their mental health.
While spirituality and religion are not necessarily one and the same, they are largely associated with each other. Many find that being devoutly faithful in a healthy way can make mental health treatment easier. When it comes to treating mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, it’s difficult to feel motivated to make life-changing decisions. Unfortunately, hopelessness is a common feeling in situations like these, which can prevent someone from knowing their purpose in life or why they should get better. Spirituality and religion can help give someone a purpose and provide healing, whether they’re used together or apart. The belief in a higher power plays a major part in finding this purpose.
Religion is typically meant to be a guide for life and thus, religions with holy books usually contain verses that help a believer navigate daily life and prepare for the future in different ways. Naturally, these books will contain verses that instill hope in the person reading it, oftentimes encouraging the reader to forgive themselves and others, as well as helping them find inner peace. Abiding by teachings from holy books and prophetic traditions can help give someone a moral compass to stick to and also identify when a negative life experience could be a character-strengthening lesson.
Aside from providing guidelines to live by, religions also contain teachings related to mental health. Islam, for example, acknowledges that anxiety and depression are prevalent within humanity. The Quran [70:19] states, “Indeed, mankind was created anxious.” Additionally, 2:155 states, “We will surely test you with fear and famine, with loss of wealth, lives and crops, but give glad tidings to the patient.” In Islam, the end-all-be-all for a believer is to submit to God. If a Muslim is struggling with mental health issues and feelings of hopelessness, believing that God has a plan for them and will protect them can be relieving. Patience is a core belief in Islam, and in the Quran [2:153], it states, “O believers, seek help through patience and prayer, for indeed God is with the patient.” Being confident that you are not alone in a struggle can make stressful life events much more tolerable.
Christianity also acknowledges mental health struggles. In the Christian tradition, the prophet Elijah was thought to have struggled with suicidal thoughts. 1 Kings 19:4 says about Elijah’s endeavor, “While he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, he came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’” Like the Quran, the Bible also provides comforting verses for believers. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Moreover, the prophet David says in Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Religion can improve mental health by means of community support as well as the ritualistic aspect of religious practice. Being involved in a religious community can create a sense of belonging when someone is struggling with feelings of loneliness. Community can also prompt social engagement with other people of the same faith, helping combat social anxiety and isolation. Rituals also provide a healthy balance in a person’s life. Structure, routine and predictability are well-established as important parts of improving mental health. Examples of religious rituals that benefit mental health include religious holidays and days of rest. Another kind of ritual is praying at specific times throughout the day for Muslims and regularly going to confession for Catholic Christians.
A belief in a higher power can also be helpful in battling addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous members are known to embrace the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” They subscribe to this prayer in combination with AA’s 12-step program. While the origins of the prayer are Christian, addicts of other faiths and spiritual practices find value in it. Even if some AA members are nonreligious, the prayer is still timeless in its content and is inherently spiritual due to its reflective nature.
When done right and in supportive environments, religion and spirituality can offer a lifesaving way to address mental health. While many of the previously mentioned aspects are not necessarily exclusive to religion and spirituality, having a solid set of beliefs or practices to return to in times of hardship can be comforting and healing.