Religious people are less susceptible to depression because spirituality gives them a sense of purpose, community and teaches them to have an attitude of acceptance. These qualities are quite useful in mental health. The association between religiosity and mental health will be analyzed through empirical evidence on the two, causes of depression and how these causes can be affected by religious practices.
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Sense of loss, helplessness, isolation, grief as causes of depression and how religion can neutralize these factors through comfort, facilitation of acceptance and creation of new identities
Depression is a complex mental health issue which can be caused by so many factors. Nonetheless, these factors can be classified into these major categories: genetic, environmental, psychological and physical factors. Environmental and psychological factors are the most relevant category in this discussion and they include economic, family or social challenges.
Some people may have undergone family abuse or abuse from close people either in the past or in the present. These can leave scars that make individuals susceptible to depression. The major role of religion in such a case is to provide coping mechanisms for victims of abuse.
Alternatively, depression may be caused by family conflicts. Disputes may arise between siblings or parents and their children and this may put people at a risk of being depressed. Such persons may feel lost or isolated or may lose their sense of belonging and religion can address these emotional challenges. Other people have difficulty dealing with major loss or the death of a loved.
Grief has been shown to be a major cause of depression among patients. Religion can facilitate acceptance of such sad events as they take place and thus minimize the possibility of getting depressed. Occurrence of major events in one’s life is also closely related to death as another major cause of depression.
Some people may get divorced, move to a new city, retire or lose their job and these changes can trigger depressive tendencies. Usually such people may feel unwanted and unloved. They start to question the reason for their existence. As such, religion can offer a platform for neutralizing those negative thoughts and thus prevent depression. It can enhance their sense of meaning and life purpose.
Sometimes physical factors can lead to instances of depression and these may include serious illness. When individuals have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses, most of them tend to develop depression.
In fact, substantial research has illustrated that patients with cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Stroke and many others are likely to be depressed. This does not imply that depression is a normal reaction to those diagnoses but it may occur at any one time to the concerned patient. Religion can provide a sense of comfort to such patients who may feel like they have lost it all.
How religion helps to define life purpose and provides a sense of meaning among people who are susceptible to depression
Many religious people affirm that their lives have a sense of purpose and meaning. This can prove to be a useful trait in handling depression because it gives people a sense of understanding even when illness, death or other major events have occurred. Depression often sets in when these individuals start questioning why they are alive in the first place.
Religion offers that sense of comfort in times of crises because it has already dealt with those underlying questions that can lead to depression. Koenig et al (44) summarized one hundred reports on religion and life satisfaction and found that an overwhelming percentage of the analyses i.e. 80% of them found that life satisfaction increased with an increase in religiosity.
Okulicz-Kozaryn (3) found that this ability to create purpose in life is what led to happiness and happiness eventually led to greater life satisfaction. Although the study did not focus on depression, it is very useful in the study because it explains the importance of religion in dealing with underlying causes of depression and countering them.
Many individuals tend to take on their day to day challenges without really thinking about the meaning of their life. They go to school, get jobs or start businesses, raise families and interact with others without really questioning the purpose of their lives in relation to these events. However, when a drastic event occurs, such people will then begin to think of their purpose but will often lack answers on it.
Religion teaches that human beings are not simply products of chance because if this were the case then there would be no meaning to life (Hatcher & Douglas, 49). Man is a conscious being so he has that inherent need to understand why he is on this earth.
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Many religions teach that man was created in order know his higher power. In other words, even if many negative things take place in one’s life, one’s life still remains valuable because it can still be used to get to know God or a higher power. Religions teach people to believe that they are spiritual beings and that they continue to exist even after death occurs.
Therefore, even chronically ill patients can have a sense of hope because they know that they will continue to exist even at the end of life. Furthermore, when a person has a sense of purpose as postulated by that person’s religious beliefs then it is likely that the person will be detached from material or worldly things.
Such an individual will not be as affected as a non religious person when they lose their job or when they retire because they know that there is a greater spiritual quest that they are engaging in. Most religious people think of life’s happenings as transient since the ultimate goal is to grow and develop in God or the higher power. This sense of detachment is crucial to dealing with instances of abuse or any other troubling occurrence.
Thoughts of that abusive situation may not keep lingering in the mind of the victim because he or she will think of it as a small fraction of the larger picture. That person will be detached from the incident and is likely to fare better than the non religious person. This would make him or her less susceptible to depression.
When a person has a deep sense of place and they are well connected with their ultimate purpose then they will often be at peace with themselves. Circumstances around that individual will not dictate one’s reaction because that person looks within in order to find answers.
In the end, it is likely that such a person will be immensely comfortable in his own skin. Environmental causes of depression that may challenge one’s sense of place can have a marginal effect on the individual because that person’s focus is on something else other than the physical.
Isolation, loneliness and detachment as causes of depression and how religion neutralizes them through social support and renewed identity
Clark and Lelkes (1) carried out a research to find the relationship between religious interactions and life satisfaction. Here, they found that the religious tend to be more satisfied with their lives. They controlled for education, marital status, age and country and still found that religious devotees tended to be more satisfied with their lives than those who were not.
But what was most insightful about this research was that is illustrated how social support affected life satisfaction. The authors found that Roman Catholics tended to report greater life satisfaction in regions where more Roman Catholics were present. Protestants also reported greater life satisfaction in areas where there were more Protestants.
This implies that there are positive spillover effects from associations with members of the same faith. These associations were found to come from social support institutions set up by the prevalent religions. People tended to have greater spillover when they attended these churches and events.
Even their degree of happiness tended to increase. When individuals are more satisfied with their lives then chances of falling prey to depression are much less there than in those groups that are unsatisfied with their lives. Clark and Lelkes (7) found that positive spillovers of life satisfaction occurred when religious groups of the same kind existed.
This implies that social support and social satisfaction are critical in determining how satisfied one is with one’s life. Religion offers that crucial life support and thus causes significant changes in people’s attitude or perception of their lives. Depression can therefore be alleviated or prevented because religious association is an anecdote towards one of the most pressing problems in cases of depression; isolation.
Religion has often been considered as a powerful source of community even as external factors try to pull people apart. When individuals get together, they often create positive energy that reinforces their shared identity with one another.
Usually, these people may come together in order to perform a ritual and once they leave those gatherings, the sense of motivation that they derive from it often trickles into their own lives. Since these people feel connected to one another, then that shared feeling causes most of them to act in accordance with that identity. Indeed, religion provides that platform for explaining one’s interrelation with the world and everything else within it.
Furthermore, it confirms to people that they are part of a larger community that values them Okulicz-Kozaryn (3). As stated earlier, many people tend to be susceptible to depression because a certain life event may have caused them to be isolated or lonely. For example, when a person looses a spouse through death or divorce, that person’s identity is likely to be distorted.
Depression can arise among the widowed because more often than not the living spouse identified herself with her role as a wife and that may no longer be plausible. Such a person may feel lonely and unwanted and these are feelings that are synonymous to depression. Consequently, religion would give this widow a renewed sense of identity.
She will feel that her life is still significant because she belongs to her church, mosque or any other religious structure. This would neutralize those negative sentiments and thus cause her to be mentally sound.
Similarly, a person who has moved from their country of birth to a different part of the world may feel detached from his or her new community. Religion provides such people with a renewed sense of identity in an otherwise strange and unwelcoming environment.
Religion facilitates acceptance of life events
When people want to develop spiritually, the first thing they usually do is to become aware of the teachings which they are ascribing to. In order for religious teachings to get into people’s consciousness, it must be accepted. Acceptance refers to the process of being open about something without either negating it to agreeing to it.
Although the attitude of acceptance is mostly applied to religious teachings, it often overflows into other parts of life. The attitude of acceptance is crucial in life because it allows people to just let life’s experiences flow. Acceptance allows people to take others as they are rather than judge or condemn them. Essentially, this allows them to interact with others lovingly.
When looking at causes of depression, it was found that most people tend to succumb to depression after the death of a loved one has occurred or when facing a sad event in life like retirement or job loss.
These issues create a lot of negative thoughts and when those thoughts become overwhelming then someone can easily become depressed. The attitude of acceptance as taught through religion can come in handy because it causes individuals to accept life as it is.
Religious people are better at accepting life events because they understand certain fundamental laws. First, they know that all human beings have choices and can decide to either take one path or the other. In Christianity, people are often expected to make conscious choices on salvation, forgiveness, humility and many other facets.
Religious people therefore understand that choices are imperative in their lives and most will shun having a complaining attitude. Most religions also teach adherents to think of problems as blessings since these are regarded as tests of one’s spiritual journey. Possessing such knowledge does help most people to accept challenges with grace.
They are under the belief that human beings are transient so all of its circumstances will be regarded as a form of teaching for them. The attitude of acceptance therefore teaches people to look at life’s problems as a lesson in wisdom.
This kind of perception allows most religious people not to focus on past events because they emphasize mostly on the future. In religion, the will of the divine being is more important than that of men such that people do not try to look for answers through their own comprehension but through the lens of their divine being.
Many religious groups tend to teach followers about being appreciative of the little things in life. They teach people to dwell on what they have rather than what they do not have or wish to acquire. In troubling circumstances, it is absolutely essential for people to detach themselves from their prevailing situations in order to prevent over analysis of their respective challenges.
Religiousness therefore inculcates a spirit of gratitude which in turn causes greater levels of life acceptance among followers Clark and Lelkes (5). When situations that could lead to depression show up, religion causes affected persons to accept those scenarios by dwelling on the positive things in their lives.
The subject of religion and mental health has been studied by several researchers who have found positive relations between religiosity and mental health stability. One such case was research carried out by Sbarra and Law (820). This research directly focused on the subject matter under analysis which was depressed mood. They wanted to find the relationship between church attendance and depressed mood.
The dual dwelt on older members of the population with a mean age of 75.6 and a population of 791 participants. They used frequency of church attendance as a measure of the level of religiosity. They also used the CES-D scale as a measure of depressive symptoms. From the analysis, people who went to church had lower instances of depression.
Those who did not go to church at all appeared to have an even lower level of depression but it was soon confirmed that this same group were more susceptible to depressed mood than those who did go to church. The explanation given by Law and Sbarra (813) concerning these observations was that church attendance gives people a sense of purpose, meaning in their life and also gives them shared activities.
This study confirms earlier assertions made in the paper that religion enhances social support, meaning and purpose. It also illustrates that spirituality can be used tactfully by psychologists in order to prevent occurrence of depression in susceptible populations such as the elderly and the chronically ill.
Koenig (51) found that patients dealing with medical illness tended to rely on religion to cope with the challenges of medical illness. As stated earlier, chronically ill patients are highly susceptible to depression. It would therefore be crucial to find out what scholars say about this particular group’s depression susceptible with regard to religiosity.
The researchers in this particular report sought to find out the opinions of the mentally sick by asking them what coping mechanisms they utilized. Other individuals had different reports but majority of the patients asserted that they depended upon their religious practices and beliefs.
They claimed that it gave them a sense of comfort and therefore heightened their ability to cope with pain and other challenges associated with long term illness. It gave them a sense of optimism and this can be deduced to be inversely related to depression amongst them.
Koenig (737) did a comprehensive analysis of studies that have been conducted amongst physically ill patients concerning their susceptibility to depression and their level of depression. He summarized findings carried out in San Diego, and University of Alabama. It was illustrated that patients tended to focus on prayer prior to surgery and others relied on prayer as one of the conventional forms of adaptation.
In other words, chronically ill patients tended to adapt to their illness in a much better way because of religious practices. Essentially, this implies that their susceptibility to depression was minimized owing to these coping mechanisms. These findings sustain earlier assertions that religion provides groups in risk populations with a sense of support.
Koenig (738) explains that the concerned groups were able to deal with psychological symptoms such as loss of interest. Chronic illness often presents patients with a set of physical and psychological challenges. They might lose weight, concentration and energy and there is very little that religion can do about these physical factors. However, religion affects the psychological factors that make chronically ill patients vulnerable to depression.
In this scenario, physically ill patients tend to lose interest in life and religion addresses that through increased meaning. It causes people to feel isolated and withdrawn from their environment. Religion facilitates social interactions and thus minimizes the depressive mood.
Some may feel a sense of hopelessness because they appear to have lost that sense of control over their illnesses. In such situations, it becomes imperative for these groups to find a sense of hope and religion provides them with that (Koenig, 739)
Religion prevents depression; this has been confirmed through empirical research which has shown that patients tend to cope with illnesses through religious practices and that people are likely to be more satisfied with their lives when religious. When measured for depression, it was found that this category was less prone to depression.
Spirituality also leads to lower prevalence of depression because it Neutralizes factors that tend to cause depression. It offers individuals a sense of belonging such that they can get rid of feelings of hopelessness which can cause depression. Religion also gives people a sense of purpose in their life and thus acts as a coping mechanism for life’s events.
Additionally, religion also creates an attitude of acceptance such that individuals can counter the negative thoughts associated with distressing life events. Together, these factors minimize susceptibility to depression even among groups that would be at the greatest risk.
Essentially, actual religious faiths have little to do with this positive outcome; it is association with others and access to a social network that creates this positive relationship between religion and mental health.
Clark, Andrew. & Lelkes, Orsolya. Let us pray: religious interactions in life satisfaction. Paris School of Mimeo, 2009(2009-01): 1-15
Hatcher, William & Douglas, Martin. The Bahai faith? The emerging global religion. San Francisco: Harper and row, 1985
Koenig, Harold. Spirituality and depression: a look at the evidence. Southern Medical journal, 100.7(2007): 737-739
Koenig, Harold., McCullough, M. & Larson, D. Handbook of religion and health. Oxford: OUP, 2001
Law, Rita & Sbarra, David. The effects of church attendance and marital status on the longitudinal trajectories of depressed mood among older adults. Aging and Health Journal, 21.6(2009): 803-823
Okulicz-Kozaryn, Adam. Religiosity and life satisfaction: a multilevel investigation across nations. Harvard: HUP, 2009