Recent research published by the University College in London appears to indicate that people with spiritual beliefs are more likely to suffer from psychological disorders than those who follow an organised religion or alternatively are agnostic. The study, published in British Journal of Psychiatry, concluded that: “People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder.
Before the media jumps in and blows the study out-of-proportion or you feel that your spiritual beliefs are now something to put aside or be ashamed of, let’s look at these findings from a practical and holistic point of view.
Those of us who hold spiritual beliefs (which can also encompass those of organised religion I might add! How many of you like Pi in Life of Pi have developed a belief system based on aspects of faith from many religions and sources?!), are unduly sensitive to people, situations and emotions. We can say we are open receptors, taking in both the positive and negative aspects of all life has to offer. Very often, we arrive at a point of spiritual growth after severe trauma or challenges on our soul path. We may have become interested in spiritual growth AFTER this trauma occurred as in many cases explanations such as karma can help us place our experiences in a larger context, release them and let them go. All these factors can make someone more vulnerable to disorders such as depression, eating disorders etc – but that doesn’t mean spiritual beliefs are to blame.
Of course if you are feeling confused or feel you are suffering from any form of stress, panic attack or ‘hearing voices’ it is essential that you do get the opinion of a good doctor or therapist.
It can be a chicken-and-egg scenario. A study conducted by a psychiatrist in Finland into his patient’s psychic ability found a link between increased intuition and childhood abuse. Patients who had been abused as children developed their ‘6th sense’ as a survival skill as they would often need this to gauge what kind of mood the abuser was in. So we can say that psychic ability is a survival mechanism for many.
Other studies however have shown that following religious or spiritual practices provides enormous physical and psychological benefits and helps people to integrate intellectually and emotionally. “Transcendent spiritual and religious experiences have a positive, healing, restorative effect, especially if they are ‘built in,’ so to speak, to one’s daily, weekly, seasonal, and annual cycles of living,” said Ellen Idler, Acting Dean of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Rutgers University, in a paper entitled ‘The Psychological and Physical Benefits of Spiritual/Religious Practices’. After all, the benefits of meditation are well documented.
The London study did conclude that more research is needed into this subject. So, to say you’re a spiritual person certainly doesn’t mean you are crazy and at the end of the day, our vulnerability to psychological illness is determined by many factors just as it is to catching a cold! In the interim, it’s important that all of us follow beliefs that sustain us and allow us to follow our soul path in peace and in physical and spiritual health.
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