Spiritual Health | Spiritual Well Being Affects Spirituality and Mental Health

Spiritual Health | Spiritual Well Being Affects Spirituality and Mental Health


Your spiritual well being and spiritual health profoundly influence spirituality and mental health.

Belief, spirituality and mental health are three terms clinical medicine rarely considers when treating patients, however, belief alone holds within it a significant amount of power.

Your beliefs determine not only your spiritual health and spiritual well being but your physical and mental health too.

Having a belief is accepting that something is true, or having an attitude of confidence, trust and faith in something, or someone. So our beliefs are more than just thoughts we carry around with us. Our beliefs are an attitude that influences our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, which have a profound impact on how we experience our lives.

There is one aspect of our beliefs, however, that many people will perhaps not give much thought to, and that is how our beliefs, spirituality and mental health are all inseparably linked.

Perhaps the most well-known power our beliefs have is the medical phenomena known as the placebo effect. The placebo effect is something many of us will be familiar with, however, if we spare a moments thought to inquire deeply into what message the placebo effect holds for us, we begin to open the lid to a box that holds infinite potential.


At its root, the placebo effect shows that your mind alone is capable of healing your body!

Our minds can have a powerful effect on our body and the beliefs we hold to be true are a powerful form of mind programming. What the placebo effect shows us, is that our beliefs can influence our bodies and heal injuries and illnesses.

The placebo effect is defined as:

‘the phenomena of receiving a beneficial effect, produced by a placebo drug or treatment, which cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must, therefore, be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment’.

In many cases, patients with physical injuries or illnesses were given a substance (a placebo) that has no medicinal value, such as a sugar tablet, saltwater, plain water, or a sham treatment, while being led to believe they were being given real medicine.

It has been documented numerous times, that patients who received fake medical treatments, yet believed they were receiving genuine treatments, experienced real healing, even though the treatment had no medicinal value.

How strong a person's belief is in the treatment they are receiving determines the quality of the healing. What is even more fascinating is that patients who know they are receiving a placebo also show signs of enhanced healing.

In a study led by Ted J. Kaptchuk and published in the Science Translational Medicine Journal, 66 people were tested to see how well they reacted to migraine pain medication and a placebo treatment. One group were given a real migraine drug labelled with the drug’s name. One group of people were given a fake drug which was labelled ‘placebo’, and the third group were given nothing. So the people taking the placebo knew they were taking a medicinally ineffective substance that had no painkilling properties.

The researchers discovered that the placebo tablet was 50% as effective as the real drug at reducing the pain of patients migraines. As this paper quotes:

“The benefits of placebo persisted even if placebo was honestly described. Whether treatment involves medication or placebo, the information provided to patients and the ritual of pill taking are important components of care.” - https://stm.sciencemag.org/content/6/218/218ra5/tab-figures-data

The act of swallowing a placebo pill, even though the patients knew it was medicinally ineffective, was enough to remove the painful migraines from patients. It was also shown that "increasing ‘positive’ information incrementally boosted the efficiency of both placebo and medication during migraine attacks."

This showed that the thoughts, beliefs and positive attitudes of the patients were fundamental in determining how well they could heal themselves using the power of their minds and belief.


Spirituality and mental health research published by Wiley.

On the topic of spiritual health and spiritual well being, there have been many studies showing that a person's religious or spiritual beliefs have a positive impact on every aspect of their health.

‘Wiley’, who has been delivering high-quality research content for over 200 years, published research on how having religious and spiritual beliefs can positively impact the health and lives of those suffering from cancer.

As quoted from this Wiley publication:

“Research reveals that most individuals with cancer have religious and spiritual beliefs, or derive comfort from religious and spiritual experiences. But what impact does this have on patients' health? Recent analyses of all published studies on the topic--which included more than 44,000 patients--shed new light on the associations of religion and spirituality with cancer patients' mental, social, and physical well-being. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the analyses indicate that religion and spirituality have significant associations with patients' health.” - https://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/PressRelease/pressReleaseId-119804.html

First, researchers focused upon physical health in relation to spiritual beliefs. It was shown that patients who had a greater sense of religiousness or spirituality also reported better physical health, greater ability to perform their various daily tasks, and experienced fewer physical symptoms of cancer and the associated treatment.

"These relationships were particularly strong in patients who experienced greater emotional aspects of religion and spirituality, including a sense of meaning and purpose in life as well as a connection to a source larger than oneself," said lead author Heather Jim, PhD, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. - https://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/PressRelease/pressReleaseId-119804.html

Dr Jim noticed that patients reported greater physical health if they experienced greater cognitive aspects of religion and spirituality, such as being able to integrate the cancer into their religious or spiritual beliefs. This improvement in physical health was not related to the physical involvement one may have with their practice, such as praying, meditating, or going to church, but was instead based upon their spiritual attitude.

Second, researchers also examined the mental health of patients and discovered that the emotional aspects of spirituality and religion were strongly associated with positive mental health.

"Spiritual well being was, unsurprisingly, associated with less anxiety, depression, or distress," said another lead author John Salsman, PhD.

While a person's positive spiritual well being was beneficial for health, it was shown that having negative spiritual beliefs had a detrimental effect on health.

"Also, greater levels of spiritual distress and a sense of disconnectedness with God or a religious community was associated with greater psychological distress or poorer emotional well-being."

The third aspect of this study looked at patients social health and their ability to retain relationships and social roles while suffering from illnesses. It was shown that those with religious and spiritual beliefs had modest but reliable links with social health.

"When we took a closer look, we found that patients with stronger spiritual well being, more benign images of God (such as perceptions of a benevolent rather than an angry or distant God), or stronger beliefs (such as convictions that a personal God can be called upon for assistance) reported better social health," said lead author Allen Sherman, PhD. - https://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/PressRelease/pressReleaseId-119804.html

In contrast, those who struggled with their faith showed poorer social health.


Spirituality and mental health were found to be independent of religious beliefs.

Research published by the University of Missouri showed that spirituality often enhances a person's health regardless of that person's faith. Researchers from Missouri University believe that health care providers should take advantage of the benefits of spirituality and mental health when it comes to treating patients.

"In many ways, the results of our study support the idea that spirituality functions as a personality trait," said Dan Cohen, assistant teaching professor of religious studies at MU and one of the co-authors of the study. "With increased spirituality, people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe. What was interesting was that the frequency of participation in religious activities or the perceived degree of congregational support was not found to be significant in the relationships between personality, spirituality, religion and health." - https://munewsarchives.missouri.edu/news-releases/2012/0820-spirituality-correlates-to-better-mental-health-regardless-of-religion-say-mu-researchers/

This research showed that a person's spiritual attitude and sense of connection with something greater than themselves were important keys to improving their mental health.


Spirituality and religion were noted as being vital coping mechanisms for those with severe mental illness.

When it comes to improving spirituality and mental health, those with more severe illnesses also received significant mental health benefits when they had a firm sense of religiousness or spirituality.

Holly Oxhandler, Ph.D., associate dean for Baylor University, was the lead author in a study published in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice. Researchers examined 55 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 who suffered from serious mental illness and who had used crisis emergency services. Of those 55 people, 34 "mentioned religion or spirituality in the context of talking about their mental health symptoms and service use with little-to-no prompting," researchers wrote.

Researchers noted that religion and spirituality emerged as a unique way in which these young adults were able to make sense of their difficult life situations and mental health struggles.

"Not only did these young adults struggle with serious mental illness, but they had also experienced extreme adversity, including abuse, poverty, homelessness, addiction, near-death experiences, loss and an overwhelming lack of access to medical and mental health services," researchers wrote. "Yet, many attempted to explain, make sense of or organize their circumstances through their religious/spiritual perspective and talked about God as a source of comfort and support." - https://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=200805

Professor Oxhandler said: "it's especially important they (mental health services) understand the role of religion/spirituality in the lives of the vulnerable young adults they serve."

Those suffering from severe mental health issues used a variety of coping mechanisms, such as prayer, reading religious books, support from their religious and spiritual groups, and identifying and applying religious and spiritual meaning to their difficult situations in life.

"Those who discussed their relationship with God or a higher power discussed God providing a sense of comfort or protection, accepting them for who they are or positively intervening in their lives," Oxhandler said. "Among those who unpacked the role of their support systems and faith, they often described family and friends referencing religion or God for support, and some even offered recommendations for others struggling with mental illness that involve religion and spirituality." - https://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=200805

From this research, it is evident that religion, spirituality, and having a sense of connection with God, plays a vital role in the lives of those with severe mental illnesses. Having these feelings of connection appear to offer a tremendous source of support to those suffering from pain and discomfort.


Research shows that those who are not religious or spiritual, or who avoid such things, have poorer health.

While there is substantial evidence from many studies showing health improvements for those who feel religiously or spiritually connected, it has been shown that people who do not have spiritual attitudes can experience negative effects upon their mental health.

In a study published in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, it was shown that people who avoided existential questions experienced poorer mental health, including greater levels of depression, anxiety, and difficulty regulating emotions.

"Religious and spiritual struggles, conflicts with God or religious people, tough questions about faith, morality, and the meaning of life, these are often taboo topics, and the temptation to push them away is strong," said Julie Exline, professor of psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve and co-author of the research.
"When people avoid these struggles, anxiety and depression tend to be more intense than if they faced these struggles head-on."
People who more fully embrace these struggles with fundamental beliefs and values report better mental health than those who don't, Exline added. - https://thedaily.case.edu/avoiding-spiritual-struggles-existential-questions-linked-poorer-mental-health/


Holding onto negative spiritual beliefs, such as God not loving you or God punishing you, is linked to poorer health.

While having a positive spiritual attitude has been shown to have positive health effects, and avoiding spirituality has been linked to poorer health, it has also been shown that having negative spiritual beliefs can be detrimental to your health.

In a paper published by the University of Missouri, it was shown that individuals who blamed karma for their poor health have worse mental and physical health.

“In general, the more religious or spiritual you are, the healthier you are, which makes sense,” said Brick Johnstone, a neuropsychologist and professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health Professions. “But for some individuals, even if they have even the smallest degree of negative spirituality, basically, when individuals believe they’re ill because they’ve done something wrong and God is punishing them, their health is worse.” - https://www.newswise.com/articles/negative-spiritual-beliefs-associated-with-more-pain-and-worse-physical-mental-health

Johnstone and his colleagues studied nearly 200 people to find out how their spiritual beliefs affected their health. The participants were made into two groups. A negative spirituality group, consisting of those who reported feeling abandoned, or punished by a higher power, and a positive spirituality group, consisting of people who didn’t feel abandoned or punished by a higher power. Participants answered questions about their emotional and physical health, including physical pain, to observe how their religious and spiritual beliefs affected their health.

Those with negative spiritual beliefs reported significantly worse pain, as well as worse physical and mental health. Those with positive spiritual beliefs reported better mental health. However, even if individuals reported having positive spiritual beliefs, it was shown that having any degree of negative spiritual belief contributed towards their poorer health, the researchers found.

“Previous research has shown that about 10 per cent of people have negative spiritual beliefs; for example, believing that if they don’t do something right, God won’t love them,” Johnstone said. “That’s a negative aspect of religion when people believe, ‘God is not supportive of me. What kind of hope do I have?’ However, when people firmly believe God loves and forgives them despite their shortcomings, they had significantly better mental health.”

"Individuals with negative spiritual beliefs also reported participating in religious practices less frequently and having lower levels of positive spirituality and forgiveness. Interventions that help combat negative spiritual beliefs and promote positive spiritual beliefs could help some individuals improve their pain and their mental health," Johnstone said. - https://www.newswise.com/articles/negative-spiritual-beliefs-associated-with-more-pain-and-worse-physical-mental-health


The deeper question is, why?

Looking at this research, it’s clear that believing one has a positive connection to God can have a significant positive impact upon their mental, emotional, and physical health. That’s not to mention the spiritual health benefits and spiritual well being enjoyed by having such beliefs.

The deeper question is, why?

Is having trust, faith, and a belief in a Higher guiding power a catalyst that programs the mind to heal the body, similar to the placebo effect?

Are there physiological reasons for why feeling connected helps to heal, such as by reducing stress, anxiety and depression?

Or is there a deeper truth. Does feeling one with God open an energy connection that helps us to heal?

We will, of course, receive a different response depending upon whom we ask. More to the point, however, does it matter?

If having a sense of connection to God and communicating with God can heal us, does it matter why that healing occurs?

What we can say, is that it would appear personal health is a direct reflection of spiritual health. But of course, as we have seen, that very much depends upon what we believe.

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