By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“As we learn more and more about the connections between the mind and body, it becomes clear that spirituality, religion and faith can help some individuals live well with mental health conditions. Some individuals and families turn to faith in times of crisis to help in their recovery while others find that spiritual practices help them continue to manage their mental health.” – National Alliance on Mental Health
Psychological well-being is sometimes thought of as a lack of mental illness. But, it is more than just a lack of something. It is a positive set of characteristics that lead to happy, well-adjusted life. These include the ability to be aware of and accept one’s strengths and weaknesses, to have goals that give meaning to life, to truly believe that your potential capabilities are going to be realized, to have close and valuable relations with others, the ability to effectively manage life issues especially daily issues, and the ability to follow personal principles even when opposed to society.
Religion and spirituality have been promulgated as solutions to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. What evidence is there that these claims are in fact true? The transcendent claims are untestable with the scientific method. But, the practical claims are amenable to scientific analysis. There have been a number of studies of the influence of religiosity and spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health. Research from this body of work has shown that spirituality and religiosity serve as protective factors against a variety of psychiatric conditions, including depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, suicide, burnout, eating disorders, substance-related disorders and addiction recovery. But there is a need for more research into the influence of spirituality on mental health.
In today’s Research News article “Phenotypic Dimensions of Spirituality: Implications for Mental Health in China, India, and the United States.” See:
or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:
McClintock and colleagues examine the spirituality and mental health of a very large cross-cultural sample in China, India, and the United States. Participants completed 14 validated scales of spirituality and religiosity and 3 different scales of mental health. It took approximately 2 hours for the participants to complete all of the measures. The answers on all of the spirituality measures were lumped together and analyzed with sophisticated statistical techniques to uncover the underlying common factors of spirituality.
The analysis uncovered “five dimensions of universal spiritual experience, specifically: love, in the fabric of relationships and as a sacred reality; unifying interconnectedness, as a sense of energetic oneness with other beings in the universe; altruism, as a commitment beyond the self with care and service; contemplative practice, such as meditation, prayer, yoga, or qigong; and religious and spiritual reflection and commitment, as a life well-examined.” The five factors were labelled as Religious and Spiritual Reflection and Commitment, Contemplative Practice, Unifying Interconnectedness, Love, and Altruism.
The five factors were then examined to observe their relationships with mental health. McClintock and colleagues found that there were some cultural differences but universally, high levels of Love, Interconnectedness, and Altruism were associated with lower levels of mental health problems. That is the more the individuals expressed the spiritual characteristics of love, altruism, and a sense of interconnectedness with everything and everyone, the greater their mental health. Hence, these results clearly suggest that across diverse cultures containing diverse religious and spiritual practices, that spirituality is associated with positive psychological health.
It has to be acknowledged that this study was correlational and as such can only uncover relationships. It cannot determine causation. Hence, it cannot be concluded that spirituality causes improvements in mental health. It is equally likely that good mental health produces a greater likelihood of spirituality or that some other factor, such as family upbringing is responsible for both the levels of spirituality and mental health. It will remain for manipulative research in the future to determine the nature of the causal connections.
“Spirituality can help people maintain good mental health. It can help them cope with everyday stress and can keep them grounded. Tolerant and inclusive spiritual communities can provide valuable support and friendship. There is some evidence of links between spirituality and improvements in people’s mental health, although researchers do not know exactly how this works.” – Mental Health Foundation
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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McClintock, C. H., Lau, E., & Miller, L. (2016). Phenotypic Dimensions of Spirituality: Implications for Mental Health in China, India, and the United States. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1600. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01600
While the field of empirical study on religion and spirituality in relation to mental health has rapidly expanded over the past decade, little is known about underlying dimensions of spirituality cross-culturally conceived. We aimed to bridge this gap by inductively deriving potential universal dimensions of spirituality through a large-scale, multi-national data collection, and examining the relationships of these dimensions with common psychiatric conditions. Five-thousand five-hundred and twelve participants from China, India, and the United States completed a two-hour online survey consisting of wide-ranging measures of the lived experience of spirituality, as well as clinical assessments. A series of inductive Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA) and cross-validating Exploratory Structural Equation Modeling (ESEM) were conducted to derive common underlying dimensions of spirituality. Logistic regression analyses were then conducted with each dimension to predict depression, suicidal ideation, generalized anxiety, and substance-related disorders. Preliminary EFA results were consistently supported by ESEM findings. Analyses of 40 spirituality measures revealed five invariant factors across countries which were interpreted as five dimensions of universal spiritual experience, specifically: love, in the fabric of relationships and as a sacred reality; unifying interconnectedness, as a sense of energetic oneness with other beings in the universe; altruism, as a commitment beyond the self with care and service; contemplative practice, such as meditation, prayer, yoga, or qigong; and religious and spiritual reflection and commitment, as a life well-examined. Love, interconnectedness, and altruism were associated with less risk of psychopathology for all countries. Religious and spiritual reflection and commitment and contemplative practice were associated with less risk in India and the United States but associated with greater risk in China. Education was directly associated with dimensions of spiritual awareness in India and China but inversely associated with dimensions in the United States. Findings support the notion that spirituality is a universal phenomenon with potentially universal dimensions. These aspects of spirituality may each offer protective effects against psychiatric symptoms and disorders and suggest new directions for treatment.