How Spirituality Affects Mental Health

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on February 12, 2024
3 min read

The idea of spirituality means different things for different people. The variety of spiritual beliefs and customs are as varied as the people who practice them. One thing they all have in common is the range of effects they can have on our mental health. Spirituality affects our mental health in a variety of ways.

Spirituality is your belief or sense of purpose and meaning. It is what gives you a sense of value or worth in your life. Contrary to what many people might think, spirituality and religion are not the same. But they are linked. You can be spiritual without belonging to a specific religion. Religious people follow a particular faith and may be connected with specific groups or traditions.

Spirituality influences many decisions that people make. It encourages people to have better relationships with themselves, others, and the unknown. Spirituality can help you deal with stress by giving you a sense of peace, purpose, and forgiveness. It often becomes more important in times of emotional stress or illness.

Positive impacts of spirituality. There are several ways that spirituality can support your mental health:

  • You may feel a higher sense of purpose, peace, hope, and meaning.
  • You may experience better confidence, self-esteem, and self-control.
  • It can help you make sense of your experiences in life.
  • When unwell, it can help you feel inner strength and result in faster recovery.
  • Those in a spiritual community may have more support. 
  • You may work at better relationships with yourself and others. 

Many people with a mental illness get a sense of hope by talking with a religious or spiritual leader. Some mental illnesses can be seen as times when people question their value or purpose in a way that leaves them feeling pessimistic. It can be extremely helpful to include spirituality in the treatment of mental health difficulties.

Negative impacts of spirituality. Some people may take advantage of emotionally vulnerable people while pretending to support their spirituality. If you’re emotionally vulnerable, you can be more easily convinced to take part in unhealthy activities.

When to see a doctor. It may feel strange talking with your doctor about spiritual topics. But if your spiritual beliefs are affecting your mental state, you should talk with your doctor about it. Seek a professional’s advice if you have worries or are feeling stress due to your spirituality.

If your doctor is treating you for a mental illness, consider telling them about your spiritual beliefs. Express your concern if your spirituality prevents you from following their medical recommendations. Remember to tell your doctor if your spiritual beliefs affect your health care decisions.

Mental health disorders may be treated with the help of spirituality through a psychotherapeutic method called Spiritually Augmented Cognitive Behavior Therapy. This technique involves including spiritual values in cognitive behavior therapy

It focuses on four key areas: 

  • Acceptance
  • Hope
  • Achieving meaning and purpose
  • Forgiveness

This type of therapy examines unavoidable parts of life such as birth and death. It then looks at the ways that you may confronting these unavoidable parts of life. Finally, the focus is on seeking divine purpose. 

The main techniques used during this process are:

  • Empathetic listening 
  • Encouragement of emotional expression
  • Problem-solving 
  • Use of meditation, prayer, rituals, and monitoring effects of beliefs on symptoms

Improving spiritual health. As you take measures to support a healthy mental state, it’s important to make sure you also take care of your spiritual health. Different approaches work differently for different people. You should do what makes you most comfortable and happy. Some ideas to improve your spiritual health include:

  • Find out what makes you feel peaceful, loved, strong, and connected.
  • Dedicate part of your day doing community service.
  • Read inspirational books.
  • Try meditating. 
  • Take a walk outdoors.
  • Pray – alone or with a group.
  • Practice yoga.
  • Play your favorite sport.
  • Dedicate quiet time to yourself.  

A spiritual health assessment is sometimes necessary as part of any mental health assessment. Mental issues like depression and substance abuse can be a sign of a spiritual void in your life. Understanding the difference between a spiritual crisis and a mental illness is important to get to the root of the problem.