My blogging buddy over at ‘Pride In Madness‘ ( a blog well worth the read and following, I might add) put me onto an article which appeared in the Huffington Post an American or Canadian based outfit I believe and which lead with the headline…
Spirituality Linked To Mental Health ‘Demons’ Like Eating Disorders, Drug Abuse, Anxiety, Study Says
I always find that headlines so very often tell you right from the get go what angle the article is going to take – don’t you?
Because of the nature of this piece and because both mental health and spirituality are things that I am passionate about, and because I was asked by my blogging buddy ‘Pim’ to offer my opinion of the piece I thought I would do so through a specific post on the article.
So let’s take a look at it.
As well as the aforementioned headline, the article leads with the opening paragraphs…
Being spiritual may give life deeper meaning but it can also mess up your mind, research suggests.
A study found that people professing to be spiritual, but not conventionally religious, were more likely to suffer from a host of mental challenges.
Ok, says I, here’s a question for the article writer, headline writer, and editor responsible for said article and headline, “Did the research check to establish which came first – the spiritual tendencies or the mental health?”
It’s kind of an important consideration don’t you think? After all, a tendency for some of us who do suffer with mental illness or poor mental health to look towards the unconventional – including the spiritual – has long since been established has it not?
Is it that ‘people professing to being spiritual but not conventionally religious are more likely to suffer from a host of mental challenges’ or is it indeed that many of those interviewed had mental health challenges and then became open to being more spiritual?
The article then goes on to make the statement that “Their ‘demons’ included abnormal eating conditions, drug abuse, anxiety disorder, phobias and neurosis.”
Should I comment at this point about the cheap, tedious, even somewhat offensive use of the word ‘demons’ here? Perhaps not, it is perhaps just about excusable if I am to be charitable.
The article then makes the following generalized, nondescript and somewhat vague statement…
They were also more likely than others to be taking medication for mental health problems.
‘More likely than others’? What others? Who are these ‘others’? And is it a bad thing that “they” (whom, I am assuming are the ones who are admitting to having both mental health challenges and professing to being spiritual) are taking meds for those mental health challenges?
The article (which can be read here) then relays a statement made by one of the researchers – a professor from University College London – which apparently was made within the British Journal of Psychiatry and which, according to the article reads as follows…
Our main finding is that people who had a spiritual understanding of life had worse mental health than those with an understanding that was neither religious nor spiritual.
See now, I have a problem with such a catchall statement. The study (according to the same article) was based on “a survey of 7,403 randomly selected men and women in England who were questioned about their spiritual and religious beliefs, and mental state.”
Lent’s put that into perspective shall we. Wikipedia states that the world population is around 6.9 billion. Of which only some 1,100,000,000 are of ‘no religion’. Now whilst I am very open to the fact that Wikipedia is not the most reliable of sources it does occur to me that since only 1,100,000,000 are of ‘no religion’ and all the others are of some form of religion, making a statement that “people who had a spiritual understanding of life had worse mental health than those with an understanding that was neither religious nor spiritual” seems a little bit presumptuous to say the least.
The article did however furnish us with some interesting statistics, and I thought we could take a look at these and again put them into perspective….
Statistic 1. “Of the participants, 35% described themselves as “religious”, meaning they attended a church, mosque, synagogue or temple. The vast majority of this group (86%) were Christian.”
Ok. So that equates to only 2,591 of that 7,403 people claiming to be “religious” (meaning they attended a church, mosque, synagogue or temple) and some 4,812 not being ‘religious’.
Statistic 2. “A further 19% claimed to have spiritual beliefs or experiences without following a specific religion, while 46% were neither religious nor spiritual.”
OK. So only 1,406 people claimed to have spiritual beliefs or experiences without following a specific religion?
Statistic 3. “More than nine out of 10 were white British, with an average age of 46.”
Hm. Hardly what you would call a decent or representative cross section then, now is it?
Statistic 4. “Of the different groups, spiritual people were 50% more likely to have a generalized anxiety disorder and 72% more likely to suffer from a phobia.”
OK, I have to ask – what different groups and why yet another unquantified ambiguous statement?
Statistic 5. “They also had a 77% higher chance of being dependent on drugs and were 37% more at risk of neurotic disorder.”
‘They’ being the spiritual people of whom we still haven’t established which came first the mental challenges or the spirituality? And of which 19% had no affiliation with a church or temple or mosque or religious based support or grounding base.
Statistic 6. “Spirituality was also associated with a 40% greater likelihood of receiving treatment with psychotropic drugs.”
OK, now bear that last statistic in mind as you read the following statement which directly follows the statistics within the article and see if you can make any sense of it all…
Individuals of religious faith and those with none experienced equal levels of mental problems, the study found.
“Individuals of religious faith and those with none experienced equal levels of mental problems, the study found.” (Confused? I don’t blame you!)
The article then goes on to admit…
“But there were fewer problems with drugs or alcohol among the faithful.”
See here’s the deal as far as I see it, and I need to preface this statement with an open admission that
a)I have Aspergers and so sometime fail to see opposing arguments, and
b) I would very ,much appreciate your feedback and your take on the article in question,
But for me the whole tone of the article – it’s headlines, construct and selective statistics – just adds to the stigma that mental health already suffers unjustly and at the same time seeks to slip in somewhere at the end, where folk would be less likely to read in my opinion, the actual truth of the whole matter.
A truth that can be found not only in those last two statements admitting that “Individuals of religious faith and those with none experienced equal levels of mental problems, the study found.” and that “there were fewer problems with drugs or alcohol among the faithful.” but also in this statement found right at the end (the penultimate paragraph) of the aforementioned article…
We conclude that there is increasing evidence that people who profess spiritual beliefs in the absence of a religious framework are more vulnerable to mental disorder.
I am a Christian, I have made no secret of that, and so I can only come at this whole thing from a Christian’s point of view. But I have to tell you that the fact that they concluded that “there is increasing evidence that people who profess spiritual beliefs in the absence of a religious framework are more vulnerable to mental disorder.” comes as no surprise to this writer.
The article then comments on similar American studies and states that
Unlike some American studies, the new research found no clear relationship between religious belief and happiness.
Going on to say that…
One recent large internet study in the US reported that non-religious people with spiritual beliefs were emotionally less stable than other groups.
However, they made up only 2% of the study sample.
Much reference is made about “spiritual belief” and much use of the phrase “spiritual people” was made within this article and as a Christian who believes in God and thus in the Bible, I fully believe, we are all spiritual people were we but to understand and realize that.
Is it possible that a spiritual belief or awareness could heighten or increase the challenges that we face? Absolutely it is, in this writer’s opinion. After all, does it not open us up to another plane of existence and one in which we also need to consider and address our standing?
But doesn’t it, shouldn’t it, also open us up to another source of help and healing? Would have to be my question. And shouldn’t our spirituality have the same grounding and firm basis as anything else in our lives? Would have to be my next question.
Trust me, I am not blind to the hurt or damage that has been done by some religious organizations, churches, fellowships, temples, mosques, denominations etc etc etc.
I am a person who openly writes about my mental health challenges and my faith and who has been so very much touched and deeply saddened by some of the accounts shared with me by others who also write about their mental health and who have been hurt so very badly in the past by such organizations.
But the very idea of having a spiritual awareness and belief without structure, framework or support based grounding scares silly for those who entertain such things. It is like blindfolding yourself, indiscriminately spreading petrol soaked firewood all around yourself and then lighting a match.
Do I believe we are spiritual beings? Absolutely I do! But do I believe we were ever intended a spiritual beings to be left alone, directionless and without support or guidance? Not in a million years!
For the record and in the interest of fairness I have no axe to grind with the Huffington Post and for the record I am not familiar with any of their other pieces. I live in Ireland and it doesn’t feature over here to my knowledge. So for all I know it might be an excellent outfit with excellent articles. But I do have a problem ( just in case you didn’t notice LOL) with this particular article and its headline.
As a blogger I have often written about the need for us to consider our health in respect of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual terms and how an holistic approach is what is needed.
As a Christian I often include my faith within the pieces that I write and I get so very tired when “faith” and having a spiritual awareness or belief appears to be attacked.
But even more importantly as a mental health blogger and as a mental health activist I cannot sit idly by and watch yet more unfair and unjust stigma be thrown our way. Nor can I remain silent when I see something which, in my opinion, is specifically designed to turn people away from faith – faith which can and is, in the opinion of this writer, invaluable and essential to our whole health.
So that is “why I am in a huff”.
As I say – being mindful of my Aspergers – if I do have it wrong I do apologize, and I do so very much invite your viewpoints and feedback. And I would again like to make it clear that this post is by no means meant to be an attack or a slight against the Huffington Post themselves. only a commentary and hopefully a balance redressing in respect of that one particular article.
I am passionate about mental health awareness and the unfair and unjust stigma all too often thrown our way. I am also passionate about my faith and I do feel the headline and indeed the article featured above was inflammatory and unhelpful, to say the least, in respect of both.
I am so grateful for my faith and my spiritual awareness and I have to tell you that without them and without the love and support and caring and guidance and grounding given to me by my church I do not know where I would be or what state my spiritual, emotional, physical or mental health would be in.
I am so very grateful to “Pim” from over at Pride in Madness for bringing this article to my attention and I look forward to hearing your comments and opinions.
Kind Regards and God bless you all.