Contentment with Your Religious Belief Impacts Mental Health
Psychiatric disorders involve pathological changes in consciousness, thinking, emotions and behavior, which compromise social performance, with impairments in quality of life.
Understanding the phenomenology of mental disorders is still a major challenge for science. The biological model in which thought and all mental life is the result of chemical reactions is insufficient to explain all the cerebral physiology and the universe of psychic phenomena that life represents.
Numerous scientists are now investigating the phenomena that occur beyond ordinary consciousness that they constitute in a variety of altered states of consciousness, such as hypnotic trance, prayer, meditation, out-of-body experiences, past-life regressions, and several other phenomena.
Harold Koenig, one of the most important 20th century researchers in spirituality and human health, says that religious belief has a great influence on psychiatric disorders. It helps psychiatry professionals better understand their patients, as religious or spiritual beliefs are used to better deal with mental illness.
Lukoff, Lu and Turner define religious problems as conflicts related to faith and doctrine and spiritual problems such as conflicts involving the relationship with transcendental issues or derived from spiritual practices. As examples of spiritual problems, these authors mention mystical experiences unleashed by meditative practices, near death experiences, trance and possession phenomena, and spiritual emergencies, such as discomfort and inability associated with the emergence of spiritual experiences – mediumship.’
Religious Belief and Spiritual Experiences
In a study conducted in India (Raguram et al., 2002), researchers conducted an analysis of aspects of spiritual belief and described the effects of staying inside a Hindu temple. Built on the grave of a venerated Hindu master, the temple was known locally as a healing sanctuary for people with mental illness.
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience in Bangalore studied 31 individuals who consecutively sought help in the temple. The individuals resided in the temple for an average of six weeks. Mental diagnoses included paranoid schizophrenia, delusional disorder, and bipolar disorder-manic episode.
The Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS) was administered on arrival at and after the temple. Between the entrance and the exit of the temple, the BPRS reduced in 19% without medication. The researchers also conducted interviews with relatives who reported improvement in their relatives’ condition during the time they stayed in the temple.
“The observed reduction of almost 20% in BPRS represents a level of clinical improvement that resembles that achieved by many psychotropic agents, including the new atypical agents,” the researchers concluded. They found that improvements in spiritual interventions could explain the best results for schizophrenia seen in traditional societies.
Another phenomenon that intrigues neuroscientists is what became known in the scientific milieu as EQM, Near-Death Experience. When some people experience a near-death state, they experience a profound experience of transcending the physical world, which often leads to a spiritual transformation.
These NDEs are relevant to clinicians as they produce changes in beliefs, attitudes, and values. They may be confused with psychopathological states, although they have different consequences, requiring different therapies. NDEs can also broaden the understanding of the phenomenon of consciousness.
In other words, NDEs, investigated by Lukoff and later by Greyson, in situations of impending death (with or without cerebral suffering), present evidence that consciousness and memory are preserved without sufficient brain function. Reports of surviving patients who have had memories of an out-of-body experience indicate that thought and consciousness appear to be independent of organic brain activity.
Religious Belief and Prayer
Another study that involves deep instances of the human psychic universe is known as Intercessory Prayer. In 1988, Randolph Byrd shocked the world with the results of a study he conducted on the effects of prayer on cardiac patients. Byrd studied 393 patients in a cardiac care unit at the San Francisco General Hospital in California, USA.
The patients were “statistically similar”, which means that their conditions were all similar. These patients were divided into two groups: those who received intercessory prayer and those who did not. Neither the doctor nor the patient knew who was in which group.
For a period of ten months, Christian entities prayed only for one of the groups. The people who were invited to pray knew only the names of the sick, but never met them personally. The patients knew from the experience that they were participating but did not know which group they had been placed in. Even the staff who assisted them, knowing the experience, did not know which of the two groups belonged to the patients.
From this research and analysis, it turned out that the patients who were the object of prayer of the unknown faithful, confronted with the patients of the second group, had a better reaction to the disease, their physical state was better than the others, were more animated and needed less medicines.
Similar research was reproduced in Brazil by Dr. Carlos Eduardo Tosta, PhD, professor of Immunology at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Brasília. He coordinated a research project demonstrating that one of the body’s main defense mechanisms – phagocytosis – may have the function stabilized with prayers made at a distance.
Tosta states: ” When we interpret the data, we observe that prayer had the role of inducing balance and this makes sense, since in medicine balance is synonymous with health.” The research was carried out by the Laboratory of Cellular Immunology of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Brasilia, with the active participation of more than 50 medical students during the period from 2000 to 2003. Tosta states: “Prayer acts on healthy individuals, influencing the immune system”.
Religious Belief and Suicide
In a study conducted in Sweden, a country with a great scientific tradition, researchers studied 88 patients with psychotic disorders beginning in adolescence, with the majority having schizophrenia (Jarbin and von Knorring, 2004). Subjects were followed for more than 10 years and during that time 25% of them attempted suicide.
Religious involvement was among the factors that induced the least suicide attempts, with good family relationships and better health. In fact, when researchers controlled for anxiety and depression, the only variable that determined fewer suicide attempts was satisfaction with religious belief.
Author: Jeziel da Silva Ramos, is a psychiatrist, and the President of the Euripides House, a Spiritist Psychiatric facility in Goiânia, Brazil.
This article was first published October 8, 2018 at https://casadeeuripedes.org/psiquiatria/psiquiatria-e-espiritualidade/