Help Reduce Psychopathology with Severe Skin Conditions with Spirituality

Image may contain: one or more people and closeup

Help Reduce Psychopathology with Severe Skin Conditions with Spirituality


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Spiritual practices tend to improve coping skills and social support, foster feelings of optimism and hope, promote healthy behavior, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and encourage a sense of relaxation. By alleviating stressful feelings and promoting healing ones, spirituality can positively influence immune, cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels), hormonal, and nervous systems.” – University of Maryland Medical Center


Spirituality is often confused with being religious and attending services. Even though spiritual people often are religious, spirituality refers to a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. It involves a subjective experience of a sacred dimension. People vary in their depth of spirituality. But It appears to be an almost universal human belief that there is something more to life than just the physical.


Even though spirituality refers to something metaphysical, it has consequences in the physical realm. In particular, spirituality has been found to be associated with better psychological and physical health. Spirituality has been shown to improve psychological well-being and mental health, particularly anxiety. Spirituality has been shown to be negatively associated with depression with the higher the level of spirituality the lower the level of depression. In addition, high levels of spirituality are associated with successful drug treatment for depression. This appears to lead to spirituality being negatively associated with suicidality with the higher the level of spirituality the lower the level of suicidality.


Spirituality appears to help the individual cope with adversity, with people who are high in spirituality less likely to be distressed following negative events. To some extent this results from the fact that spirituality appears to reduce the negative consequences of stress and thereby improve well-being. Individuals at the end of life with high levels of spirituality have significantly higher levels of well-being and are less likely to be depressed or suicidal. Spirituality has also been shown to be helpful in treatment for alcoholism and generally for substance abuse treatment and  relapse prevention. Spiritual meditation has also been shown to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches.


These findings lead to the conclusion that spirituality may help with the psychological responses to disease. In today’s Research News article “Spirituality and mood pathology in severe skin conditions: a prospective observational study.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Unterrainer and colleagues studied the relationship of spirituality to the mental problems surrounding severe skin disease. They recruited patients with severe and potentially life threatening dermatological diseases of systemic sclerosis, lupus erythematosus, and early stages malignant melanoma. They measured spiritual well-being including hope immanent, forgiveness,  experiences of sense and meaning, religious well-being, general religiosity, connectedness, and hope transcendent. In addition, they measured a variety of psychiatric symptoms.


They found that hope for a better future, hope transcendent and forgiveness were the spirituality components that were most negatively associated with psychiatric symptoms, with high levels of hope and forgiveness associated with low levels of mental health issues. In general, the existential dimensions of spirituality were better predictors of low psychopathology than the religious dimensions of spirituality.


These results are interesting and suggest that spirituality is positively associated with the mental health of patients with severe dermatological diseases. Due to the fact that the study was correlational, it cannot be concluded that spirituality caused better mental health, or that better mental health caused spirituality, or some third factor was responsible for both. But, nevertheless, the findings clearly demonstrate that spirituality and mental health are positively related.


How might spirituality promote mental health. Obviously, it provides goals and meaning to life. In addition, virtually all spiritual practices and religious belief systems promote acceptance of one’s strengths and weaknesses, the need to maintain a principled life, and having harmonious relationships with others. All of these consequences of spirituality could contribute to mental health.


So, help reduce psychopathology with severe skin conditions with spirituality.


“Associations between spirituality and Eastern religious practices and lower blood pressure, lower levels of stress hormones and lower oxidative stress have been found. Moreover, associations between Judeo, Christian, and Islamic religious practices and lower blood pressure, protective effect against cardiovascular disease, increased immune function, lipid levels and protective effect against all-cause mortality were found.” –Iulia Basu-Zharku


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary

Unterrainer, H.-F., Lukanz, M., Pilch, M., Scharf, S., Glawischnig-Goschnik, M., Wutte, N., … Aberer, E. (2016). Spirituality and mood pathology in severe skin conditions: a prospective observational study. Archives of Dermatological Research, 308, 521–525.



Although the association between spirituality and parameters of psychological health and disease has been investigated extensively, little evidence is available for its potential role in dermatology. In a single-centre observational prospective study, 149 outpatients (107 women) with systemic sclerosis (SSc; n = 44), lupus erythematosus (LE; n = 48), or early stage malignant melanoma (MM; n = 57) were investigated using the multidimensional inventory for religious/spiritual well-being together with the Brief Symptom Inventory for psychiatric symptoms (BSI-18). SSc patients reported the highest amount of Somatization in comparison with LE and MM patients (p < 0.05). Furthermore, in line with the previous research, spiritual dimensions, such as Hope for a better future (p < 0.01) or Hope for a better afterlife (p < 0.01), proved to be especially negatively predictive for the global amount of psychiatric symptom burden in these dermatological patient groups. Our findings suggest that greater attention should be given to spiritual issues, such as encouraging patients, imbuing them with optimism, and offering interventions that address spiritual well-being.