Religion and mental health

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Hello Everyone,
I HOPE this week has treated you well
Since this weekend is Easter, a religious holiday, I thought I would talk about religion and mental health. This will be general- not singling out any particular religion or faith. It will simply be about the benefits that can come from believing in a higher power; something greater than ourselves.
In addiction recovery, when we refer to a higher power, it can be anything of your choice – meaning a specific religion, a God, the sun, the moon, a tree- absolutely anything.
We have all seen the harm that certain groups do while claiming that their actions are in the name of religion. I am going to stay away from that (and the negative in general) as I do not believe that is an accurate depiction of any religion or faith. The general consensus is, if one believes in a kind, forgiving and loving God, they reap only benefits. If one believes that God is judgmental and punishing, it will have a more negative effect on mental health.
For those of you who do not believe in any higher power, that’s absolutely fine. However, it couldn’t hurt reading about something that can provide you with hope, a sense of security and provides an outlet for anger and sadness.
Firstly, what is religion? It is defined as a structured system of beliefs, practices and symbols used to enable a close relationship to an individual’s chosen higher power. Of course, we know that different religions have different beliefs, days of worship, gods/prophets and ways of worshipping. Again, we are going to stay as general as possible.
It is differentiated from spirituality as this is more of a personal quest to finding specific answers about oneself, life, our relationships and so on. However, keep in mind that the benefits of religion, any higher power and spirituality, are the same.

Usually, when we think of religion, we think of people’s sense of purpose and meaning in life; we think of compassion. Many scientists/psychologists today believe that religion is a necessity for mankind. That an individual can better handle stress, unpredictability, uncertainty and a feeling of a lack of control if they believe in a higher power. It mostly provides general guidelines in how to live a better life. We have come a long way from the medieval ages when mental disorders were thought to be demonic possession.
Thoughts of a higher power allow for security, sociability, distraction and self-awareness. It lessens anxiety by taking away fear of danger or death. It can provide better empathy, understanding and kindness (which also greatly improves our relationships). Religion preaches peaceful and respectful relationships- that’s the intention anyway. It provides a new platform for love, hope, honesty and gratitude. The feeling of belonging to a specific group provides a psychosocial support that can improve self-confidence, self-esteem, productivity and efficiency. The belief in a higher power enforces acceptance, resilience and forgiveness- for both ourselves and others.
Religion also has positive effects on physical health. Studies show that people who strongly believe in a higher power are less likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or do any illicit drugs. It’s been known to have a positive effect on one’s blood pressure due to strict diets. Research also shows that those who suffer from long-term illnesses such as cancer, recover faster if a higher power is involved. Again, keep in mind the common saying ‘healthy body; healthy mind.’ A belief in a higher power definitely helps substance abusers and addicts through recovery. If my clients believe in some sort of faith, they are more likely to be successful in quitting their substance of choice. Research also shows that attending religious services add at least seven years on an individual’s life span.
The mental and physical benefits above subsequently decreases social ills such as crime, spreading of diseases, road traffic accidents, school drop-outs, domestic violence and suicidal thoughts and behaviours. It additionally helps an entire community as studies show that people who are religious take part in more volunteer/ community outreach.

Despite the very public, mediatized harms of religion/ higher powers, these have been found and remain an important aspect of human life. When I do public outreaches, I never talk about religion, as there many different types practiced in the room. However, when I see clients individually, it is definitely a topic we discuss in detail. I have found that when it comes to the topic of religion, no one is impartial. The topic always brings out strong opinions, deep feelings and even deeper values.
I have found that those who do practise some form of belief/ritual are more likely to recover from mental illness, despite the type. This is also the case for those who have lost loved ones, those going through a divorce, those going through financial strain and those that have had any other kind of trauma. Once the topic is approached with accurate and fair knowledge, respect, understanding and care, it is essential to the recovery of individuals. I recommend that all psychologists have basic understanding and knowledge of all religions being practised in Guyana (or whichever country they are working).
Those of you who do not believe, we do not have to understand or believe, we simply have to accept and respect other people’s beliefs.
Happy Easter Everyone!
Thanking you for reading. Please keep sending any topics you’d like to talk about to caitlinvieira@gmail.com Or come in to see me at:

Georgetown Public Hospital: Psychiatric Department:
Monday- Friday – 8am- 12pm

Woodlands Hospital: Outpatient Department
Drug and Alcohol group meetings – Mondays 4:15
Good mental health group meetings- Wednesdays 4:15
Suicide Prevention Helpline numbers: 223-0001, 223-0009, 623-4444, 600-7896

Say Yes to Life and No to Drugs! Always