Spirituality and Mental Health, Part I of IV: Active Ingredients of Spirituality

Psychiatry_Psychology.jpgThese articles are going to cover a lot of ground very fast. Hold onto your hat.

Shocking news from the research trenches: It is not enough to just assess patients’ health-related quality of life (HRQL). It is not enough to tell patients the results of the assessment. It is not even enough to discuss the problems that the assessment reveals! (Rosenbloom, S. K., Victorson, D. E., Hahn, E. A., Peterman, A. H., Cella, D., 2007).

Who could have predicted that? Anybody.

We did already know that by improving factors such as anxiety and traumatic symptoms, we can improve health outcomes such as cancer survival. I guess that means physicians will need to go that extra mile, and refer more of their patients to psychotherapy or other mental health resources in order to improve treatment outcomes.

You heard it here first! (Unless you heard it somewhere else first.)

But religious physicians are less likely to refer to psychiatrists. (Curlin, F. A., et. al., 2007) Does that mean that a good dose of religion can take the place of the mental health profession?

It does look like we can get more ethical or compassionate behavior out of people by “priming” them with the right sense of religiously-based spiritual oversight. (Shariff, A. F., Norenzayan A., 2007) But religion doesn’t necessarily help with health outcomes. On the other hand, spiritual well being does. (Tsuang, M. T., Simpson, J. C., Koenen, K. C., Kremen, W. S., Lyons, M.J., 2007) But, since spiritual well being (as conceived for research) is mostly measuring psychological well being, It looks like we may have to admit that psychological well being affects psychological well being.

Will wonders never cease? Never.

But let’s not be content with that. Let’s take a look under the hood.

A Look Under the Hood

One study found that the active ingredients of spirituality, where depression was concerned, were optimism and volunteering. Another factor, not associated with spirituality, was social support. (Mofidi, M., DeVellis, R. F., DeVellis, B. M., Blazer, D. G., Panter, A. T., Jordan, J. M., 2007)

However, research on religious affiliation has shown health benefits from religious affiliation in producing social support. For example, a study of older workers and retirees found that religious identity was associated with less depression and better self esteem. (Keyes, C. L., Reitzes, D. C., 2007) The active ingredients here were probably social involvement and reinforcement that improved confidence and other benefits of social interaction and belonging.

We know that people with all the physiology (plaque and nerve tangles) of Alzheimers disease who do not have the mental and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s, tend to be folks with more social and intellectual involvement. Religious involvement and spiritual identity tend to be associated with more of social support that leads to more the mental activity that fights Alzheimers. But that’s a subject for another article.

Maybe this explains why the anthropological social clubs known as Unitarian Universalist congregations exist. Atheists, agnostics and other open-minded people need love, too! Note to atheists: MeetUp.com may have an atheist group near you. If you’re socially isolated, join now before you get sick, depressed, or social stigma gets to you. If you have to move out of Provo to do it, then consult MeetUp.com before you decide where to go.

In Part II, I’ll look at the mental health benefits of the kind of spirituality that transcends religion. That is, unbranded spirit. You could say generic spirituality, or God-optional neurology, (as if that were a new idea), or SIN (spiritually integrated neurology).


Curlin, F. A., Odell, S. V., Lawrence, R. E., Chin, M. H., Lantos, J.D., Meador, K. G., Koenig, H. G. (2007) The relationship between psychiatry and religion among U.S. physicians. Psychiatr Serv. Sep;58(9):1193-8.

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Holt, C. L., Clark, E. M., Klem, P. R. (2007) Expansion and validation of the spiritual health locus of control scale: factorial analysis and predictive validity. J Health Psychol. Jul;12(4):597-612.

Kawachi, I., Willett, W. C., Colditz, G. A., Stampfer, M. J., Speizer, F. E. (1996) A prospective study of coffee drinking and suicide in women. Archives of Internal Medicine. Mar 11;156(5):521-5.

Keyes, C. L., Reitzes, D. C. (2007) The role of religious identity in the mental health of older working and retired adults. Aging and mental health. Jul;11(4):434-43.

Krause, N. (2007) Self-Expression and Depressive Symptoms in Late Life. Research on Aging, Vol. 29, No. 3, 187-206

Mofidi, M., DeVellis, R. F., DeVellis, B. M., Blazer, D. G., Panter, A. T., Jordan, J. M. (2007) Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders. Aug;195(8):681-8.

Rosenbloom, S. K., Victorson, D. E., Hahn, E. A., Peterman, A. H., Cella, D. (2007) Assessment is not enough: a randomized controlled trial of the effects of HRQL assessment on quality of life and satisfaction in oncology clinical practice. Psycho-Oncology. Published Online: 7 Mar

Shariff, A. F., Norenzayan A. (2007) God is watching you: priming God concepts increases prosocial behavior in an anonymous economic game. Psychol Sci. Sep;18(9):803-9.

Tsuang, M. T., Simpson, J. C., Koenen, K. C., Kremen, W. S., Lyons, M.J. (2007) Spiritual well-being and health. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2007 Aug;195(8):673-80.

Ventura, J. L., et. al. (2007) Functional well-being is positively correlated with spiritual well-being in women who have spontaneous premature ovarian failure. Fertility and Sterility, Volume 87, Issue 3, March, Pages 584-590.

Robert A. Yourell, MA

Robert A. Yourell, MA, has extensive experience in the mental health and social services dating back to 1975. His training includes Ericksonian communication and hypnosis with John Grinder, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing with Francine Shapiro, PhD, Body Integrative Psychotherapy with Jack Rosenberg, PhD, and solution-focused psychotherapy. He provides free audio experiences on his site that include bilateral sound and Shimmering.
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