Faith and Spirituality - Can They Help?

The last in these series of quick fixes to support yourself and others, this one is all about you. Faith and spirituality. Because we are all different, keeping ourselves well requires a variety of solutions. Faith and spirituality is another of those solutions.

Faith is defined as a belief with strong conviction; firm belief in something for which there may be no tangible proof; complete trust, confidence, reliance or devotion. You can have faith in yourself and others, faith that if you sit in a chair it will support you, faith that if you wear a seat belt it will stop you from going through the windscreen, that's what some term natural faith.

However, natural faith isn't enough to support your mental health, if you want to positively support your emotional brain. Faith in this context of faith in a higher power, a belief in god. Spirituality is a term often used for those who are not religious but have an attachment to religious values.

Neuroscience reveals that a certain portion of the brain ignites when we pray or meditate, the part that positively supports our mental wellbeing. Early experiments show that the same portion of our brain ignites when men read adventure novels. (I can’t answer why it is only good for men).

Scientists place their trust in the result of experiments, usually something tangible. A majority of journals that I have looked at suggest that scientists would rather we placed our 'faith' in medicine to make us well and then turn to faith as a backup. Interestingly though, 49% of scientists canvassed in a survey in the United States had a religious faith. What science does tell us that depression and possibly suicide have some genetic cause.

Psychology is where the real benefits of faith and spirituality can be seen. And as we are talking about mental health where better to turn to. Faith and spirituality allow us to focus on the inside of our mind to rationalise our irrational thoughts. It provides a feeling of relief which reduces stress but putting our faith in another. Based on evidence taken from 1200 studies, psychology confirms that the benefits of faith and spirituality include an increased sense of well-being, hope and optimism; lower rates of depression and suicide; less loneliness and less alcohol and drug abuse.

A large study undertaken in 2008 with adolescent substance abuse, anxiety and depression revealed that 92% demonstrated a significant improvement in their wellbeing through ‘religiousness’. In 2012, the American Journal of Psychiatry published the results of a longitudinal study conducted on the children of parents who suffered from depression and found that by having faith or a spiritual belief the children had 76% less chance of experiencing an episode of major depression themselves. This is of benefit if science tells us there is a genetic link.

Whether you have faith, are spiritual, meditate regularly, or read adventure novels, the evidence strongly supports that undertaking any of these practices has enormous benefit to your mental health. So what do you have to lose?