Balancing faith and mental health: Both complex, important to well being

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

The second factor is the motivation for participating in their religion. If a person goes to church to be seen by others, to make business connections or because they’re worried that others will judge them, these extrinsic motivations are more likely to contribute to mental health problems. However, if they attend church and follow the doctrine of their religion because they love it and truly believe in it, or in other words, they have intrinsic motivations, this contributes highly to their mental well being.

The final factor is how individuals use their religion to cope with their problems. If people use their religion to passively accept their problems as God’s will without trying to solve them, or if they blame God for all of their problems, it can be very unproductive for emotional health. If, however, people use their religion to take advantage of the social network it provides, or to participate regularly in meditative, sincere prayer, this has shown to help a person maintain their psychological health.

Mental illness happens to everyone, no matter their faith

The religious are not immune to mental health disorders any more than they are to cancer. Research has shown that many mental health problems are biological in nature and have more to do with genetics than behavior.

In the LDS culture, Berrett said, people often believe that if they’re living good lives, that should take care of everything.

“If it doesn’t take care of all their happiness, they feel like absolute losers; they feel like they’re unworthy and doing something wrong,” he said. “Really, they haven’t learned how to integrate the gospel into their lives.”

People of faith often know the rules but don’t understand the intention of the heart, he added. They don’t ascribe God to be a very loving God.

“We can be way too judgmental of each other and ourselves,” he said. “Until we learn to love ourselves and accept ourselves and embrace the goodness we have inside, we’re not really accepting the part of the gospel that can help us most.”

Religion’s role in mental recovery

Religion can help people cope when they are experiencing emotional difficulty.

One aspect of religion that encourages mental health is the social support people receive from being involved in a religious community, Richards said. Social support in general is important to help people do better emotionally.

Smith echoed that a church congregation is an instant social circle that is typically more permanent and more genuinely caring than other social groups would be.

A second aspect of religion Richards cites as helpful to emotional well being is the belief system that brings meaning and purpose to people’s lives.

“That really helps people emotionally when challenges and difficulties come along,” Richards said. “It helps them understand and cope with problems. It’s a way of making sense of life.”

Lastly, when people believe in a supreme being they can pray to and have a relationship with, they are able to face emotionally challenging situations and receive comfort, guidance and support from that relationship.

Smith agreed that this involves understanding “the why” of the doctrine rather than just following the teachings and expecting perfect results.

“If people have complete confidence that God loves them, they have comfort, cohesion and a sense of peace,” Smith said. “Just that belief in and of itself changes your perspective of the challenges you confront in life. You’re not doing it alone. You’re a team. Someone’s got your back.”

Religious people need religious therapy

For those who are religious, Richards said it is absolutely essential for their spirituality to be involved in their mental recovery.

He said with every client he first finds out what their belief system is, then works with it to discover ways that religion is either causing them stress or bringing them comfort and strength. In most cases, he said, it’s some of both. He then helps them resolve the areas that are bringing them stress, and builds on the resources their faith provides to deal with the problems they’re experiencing.

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