*Spiritualty and Mental Health*
For a long time mental health and spiritualty have been seen to be unlinked and mutually exclusive. Verghese A is quoted in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry 2010 as saying, “all along, the majority position of psychiatry has been that psychiatry has nothing to do with spirituality. Religious beliefs and practices have long been thought to have pathological basis and psychiatrists have understood them in this light…”. This has seemingly been back up by the way people routinely deal with mental health challenges.
However in recent years, there is an increasing awareness that certain aspects of mental health care benefit greatly from a deep level of spirituality. This is emphasized by Swinton J. when writing Spirituality and mental healthcare: rediscovering of a “forgotten” dimension. He said, “A person's sense of spirituality informs his or her awareness of self and the society around them, and is intrinsic to their mental well-being”.
When we discuss the connection between mental health and spirituality, we are talking about a deep balanced faith that is growing daily and providing safe spaces to ask questions and gain deeper understanding of the Creator, oneself and the connection to individual and corporate life. It is also based on the understanding that a person is made up of body, soul and spirit hence all aspects need to be addressed.
The body interacts with environment through five senses namely sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste.
The soul interacts with others and society through the mind being thoughts, the volition being decision making and the heart being the emotions.
The spirit gives meaning and purpose, deep values, connects to the beyond, interacts with the spiritual world and holds out hope and healing in loss.
When all these are in place there is room for deep and lasting healing.
While all health care strives to relieve pain and suffering, good healthcare works to do more and focuses on the person as a whole not just the disease in their body. Kenneth Pargament, a leading expert in psychology of spirituality and the Editor-in-chief of the “APA Handbooks of Psychology, Religion and Spirituality”(2013) spoke of empirical studies of many groups dealing with major stressors, natural disasters, illness, loss of loved ones, divorce, and serious mental illness that showed how spirituality is helpful to people in coping.
Deep balanced spirituality and not sycophancy was especially beneficial where resources were fewest and the challenges were uncontrollable. These situations were the most outstanding points of influence because the healing and stability needed by the individuals was beyond the innate, individual abilities to overcome. Some of the most positive spiritual coping methods include a deep connection and support from God, rituals that facilitate life transitions, forgiveness, support from religious institutions and clergy and re framing stressors into a benevolent system of meaning.
With a clear awareness that many mental health workers are unfamiliar with spirituality. A large majority of mental health workers have no training in spirituality and this urgently needs to change. Kenneth Pargament advises them to “put their toes in the water.” This means that they need to understand their clients by asking a question or two about client spirituality and communicating their own interest in spirituality.
People with mental health challenges need to feel safe and secure, be treated with dignity and respect as well as feel like they belong. They also need to be encouraged to develop their relationship with God because spirituality in mental health care helps patients recover faster and easier in some cases like grief. It also helps build better relationships oneself, God, others, the environment and nature which create much needed balance.
It is also important to build and maintain a connection to chaplaincy and pastoral care to enhance mental health care so that clients can be connected to the added dimension of spiritual guidance and form lasting community relationships than will continue to support mental health even after formal treatment is complete. A connection to a chaplaincy will also help increased mental health in the community as the spiritual leaders will also know where to refer faithful who need mental health care.
In closing, it is important to set a time, place and privacy for worship to build spirituality as well as have the reassurance that mental health workers respect spirituality. This reassurance could be supported by an encouragement in the faith through an interlink with a regular chaplaincy and a clear effort to come to a place of forgiveness and peace.
On a whole, spirituality compliments mental health care and it needs to be an active part of the treatment process.