Spirituality Improves Mental Healthby Jennifer Gibson, PharmD | October 1, 2012
Quality of life is a subjective gauge of a person’s overall well-being and includes assessments and self-reports of physical health, mental health, functional abilities, emotional condition, social support, and spirituality. As healthcare continues to evolve and provide more complete, holistic care for patients, the importance of religion and spirituality is increasingly emphasized. And, with good reason, since new research indicates that spirituality is a central determinant of quality of life and it confers more positive benefits on mental health than on other factors.
Physical activity has long been known as influential on overall well-being and quality of life, but just what role religious practice plays in quality of life is still undetermined. The authors of the current study, published in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, used a model that was similar to a validated assessment of physical activity to evaluate the effects of multidimensional factors on well-being, including religious practice. A total of 215 adults participated in the study by completing paper-and-pencil questionnaires and wearing a device that measured physical activity. The participants completed assessments of overall satisfaction with life, physical and mental health status, social support, confidence to engage in physical activity and complete self-care tasks, physical activity, and spirituality and religiousness.
Physical activity, social support, and spirituality showed the strongest influences on well-being and confidence in one’s abilities. And, more spiritual individuals reported a more positive overall health status than participants who did not report regular religious practice. There was a stronger association between spirituality and mental health than physical health. The authors concluded that spirituality’s influence on quality of life is largely mediated by mental health, and physical activity’s influence on quality of life is largely mediated by physical health.
Many studies have reported the benefits of spirituality on specific health outcomes, but few have reported its influence on global quality of life. Indeed, religious individuals experience lower morbidity and mortality than individuals who do not report regular religious practice, and religion confers a protective benefit against several physical and mental health disorders. While the mechanisms for these connections are not well-understood, evidence is mounting that spirituality and a perceived connection to a divine being (whomever or whatever that may be) give individuals a sense of control over their lives.
Spirituality and religious practice provide a connection to a world bigger than one’s self and provides a perspective that minimizes day-to-day struggles and maximizes timeless gains. No single factor guarantees positive well-being or mental health, but an abiding faith in a higher power seems a reliable place to start.
Johnstone B, Yoon DP, Cohen D, Schopp LH, McCormack G, Campbell J, & Smith M (2012). Relationships Among Spirituality, Religious Practices, Personality Factors, and Health for Five Different Faith Traditions. Journal of religion and health PMID: 22618413
Konopack JF, & McAuley E (2012). Efficacy-mediated effects of spirituality and physical activity on quality of life: A path analysis. Health and quality of life outcomes, 10 (1) PMID: 22642832
Unterrainer HF, Lewis AJ, & Fink A (2012). Religious/Spiritual Well-Being, Personality and Mental Health: A Review of Results and Conceptual Issues. Journal of religion and health PMID: 22965652
Unterrainer HF, Schoeggl H, Fink A, Neuper C, & Kapfhammer HP (2012). Soul Darkness? Dimensions of Religious/ Spiritual Well-Being among Mood-Disordered Inpatients Compared to Healthy Controls. Psychopathology, 45, 310-6 PMID: 22797574
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