Questions without Notice: Religion and Mental Health

Religion and Mental HealthFrom time to time, we receive enquiry from students about their assignments on various topics. These questions often address matters relating to religion and spirituality. So we commence a new category, “Questions without Notice”. On this occasion, questions addressed Religion and Mental Health.

How do you define Religion?

The word Religion comes from the Latin, religiare, to bind back. The role and function of religion is to bind the human to the Divine, in whatever way the Divine has revealed itself in time, place, culture and society. Organised religion is an institution to express belief in a divine power in common assembly.

Personal religion is a relationship with the Divine, as experienced by the beholder, often called spirituality .

Religion is only of value to the extent that it is able to pass on the message of love for God through the generations; to pass on the message of caring for others and for Nature, to inspire seeking higher values and thereby enrich man’s life. We say this because – universally – parents raise their children in their religion of choice – or no religion. Parents have the right to pass on beliefs – or no belief – to their offspring.

One of tasks of religions should be delivering the essence flowing from Divinity, adjusted to the present day mentality. Religions evade this responsibility, searching for inspiration in books instead of seeking it in the Spirit, which had once been reviving these books and from which one may draw any time, today also. This is of course an ideal. Sometimes the sole concern of religion is using established patterns of wielding power over people.

If you are interested in the importance of the Bible then know that it is one of many signposts. And please, do not mistake the signpost with the goal of your journey.



What is your definition of mental health?

Mental Health is the psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment. Mental health is a state of personal equilibrium – inner peace and outer peace with the world, with friends, with family.

Another definition of mental health is …

a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

Hearing Voices
One particular issue mental health is hearing voices. The following is taken from the Hearing Voices Factsheet by Rethink Mental Illness of the UK.

  • Around 1 in 10 of us hear voices that other people don’t hear.
  • Another term for hearing voices is ‘auditory hallucinations’.
  • Voices can say positive or negative things.
  • Negative voices can be hard to cope with and upsetting.
  • Hearing voices is not always a sign of a mental health problem.
  • Treatments for hearing voices can include medication, talking therapies and peer support.

Pre-empting the question below, we offer that the practice of mediatation and simple spiritual practices may help with the abovementioned matter:



How does Religion support mental health?

There is the plus and the minus in response to this question:

Religion does not explicitly exist to support mental health. Most religions (not all) give strategies to manage the mind. Other religions give moral imperatives (thou shalt, thou shalt not) as strategy to reach the goals they offer. For some, it is Pray, Pay and Obey or go to Hell. When people approach death with fear of Hell, this is not a state of mental health.

People living with mental health challenges, are no less members of a faith community than anyone else. People with mental illness and their families often feel isolated from their faith community and thus isolated from God. Isolation is often caused by social stigma: the idea that mental illness is a question of character or a punishment from God.

Spirituality and religion can be helpful to manage stressful life events and improve your mental health. There are a few ways that spirituality and religion may help your mental health, such as:

  • if you are part of a spiritual or religious community you may have more support and friendship,
  • you may find it helpful to feel connected to something bigger than yourself,
  • it may help you to make sense of your experiences,
  • you may feel strength or hope from your spirituality or religion, which can help if you’re unwell, and
  • you may feel more at peace with yourself and other people around you.

The Misguided Help:
The unfortunate stigma associated with mental health issues is particularly prevalent amongst refugee and asylum seeker groups and there are faith communities who may view it through a lens of stigma and shame. Some even consider those who struggle with their mental health as an indictment and so routinely dismiss it as a “lack of faith”.

You don’t need to see a psychologist. Just pray.” A well meaning and otherwise caring individual said these words to me. At a time when I was very clearly struggling with my mental health, this was a painful reminder of how so many people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) in faith communities are widely misguided and uninformed when it comes to mental health and well being. This deep lack of awareness severely hinders treatment and early diagnosis, which results in victims suffering in silence.

Religious Extremism
Extreme religious or spiritual groups may hold ideas or beliefs that most people think are unreasonable or unacceptable.

Some people’s faith is so important to them that they feel justified in acting in extreme ways. This is to try and make others share the same beliefs as them.

Extremist views can be from things like:

  • how someone interprets a religious or holy book,
  • a belief that they will be rewarded in life or an afterlife,
  • the influence of others, or
  • the belief that they’re doing it for god.

‘Radicalisation’ is when someone tries to get you to believe and follow their extreme views and practices. People with mental health issues are more vulnerable to extremism.

The Appropriate Help
Returning to strategies for managing the mind, many religions (such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Zen, Baha’i, Zoroastrian) offer spiritual disciplines (personal activities one may take up of one’s own volition) that elicit peace and satisfaction within. The word discipline is used because one does not get immediate results: patience, practice and perseverance gets results. This is said to be the fruits of discipline.

What changes can be made to support people with mental health?

  • Increasing mental health awareness training, undertaking Mental First Aid course.
  • Making links with mental health networks in your local area,
  • Advocating for the rights of individuals and their families,
  • Encouraging peer-to-peer support.
  • Especially when people are experiencing great trauma in their lives, a role emerges to maintain and develop relationships affording safety, trust and collaboration.

There is evidence that certain types of prevention strategies can be effective in influencing the factors that shape mental health. Some of these strategies include:

  • parenting programs
  • social and emotional development programs
  • creating supporting environments for mental health, including workplaces, education and other settings;
  • strengthening community action for mental health,
  • developing mentally healthy public policy; for example, ‘studies suggest that by eliminating child abuse we could potentially reduce the prevalence of anxiety and depression by around 20-25%

Mental health references the Self. Referencing the Self is known by

  • Self discipline
  • Self control
  • Self respect
  • Self confidence
  • Self determination


Image Credit: Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe , AtWorkWellBeing

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