Spirituality is concerned
with people finding meaning and purpose in their lives, as well as the sense of
belonging. It involves belief in an all powerful force - the Supreme
Being or God or Higher Self. Neurobehavioral scientists define spirituality as
'the pursuit of an altered state of consciousness that enables the mystic to
become aware of cosmic realities that cannot be grasped during normal states of
consciousness. Most of us, if not all, follow some spiritual leaders, be it the
more recent Dalai Lama or Baba Ramdev or the spiritual masters of the bygone
era such as Buddha or Vivekananda.
Spirituality can be seen to be more general and inclusive
in its nature, while on the other hand religion is seen to be more specific and
linked with a particular faith, tradition and belief in a god.
A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry
found that people claiming to be
spiritual, but not normally religious, were more likely to suffer from a host
of mental challenges.
The study revealed that spiritual people suffered
many problems including abnormal eating conditions, drug abuse, anxiety disorder, phobia and neurosis. These people
were also more likely than others to be taking medicines for problems regarding
Professor Michael King from the University College London
and his colleagues, who carried out this study, wrote: "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
About 7,403 men and women were randomly selected
for the study in England; majority of them were Christians. They were
questioned about their spiritual, religious beliefs and mental state.
About 35 per cent of the participants claimed
that they attended church, mosque, synagogue or temple, and were labeled
'religious'. About 19 per cent of the participants claimed to have spiritual
beliefs without being conventionally religious, while 46 per cent were
atheists, that is, they were neither religious nor spiritual.
The study revealed that spiritual people were 50
per cent more likely to have a generalized anxiety disorder, 72 per cent more
likely to suffer from a phobia, and had a 40 per cent greater chance of
receiving treatment with psychotropic drugs. They also had a 77 per cent higher
chance of being dependent on drugs and were 37 per cent more at risk of
The study also found that individuals of
religious faith and those with none experienced equal levels of mental
problems, however there were fewer problems with drugs or alcohol among the
It shall, however, be noted that the study did
not find any relation between religious belief and happiness.
The study had more limitations. For example, such
studies cannot prove 'cause and effect'. So it could not ascertain whether
mental ill-heath makes people spiritual or whether spirituality is somehow
detrimental to mental health. Moreover, those with more spiritual view of life
may prefer using alternative medicines to treat diseases such as depression
although these may be less effective than conventional medicines.
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 per cent of the study
But, the study conducted by Professor King has
revealed that there is increasing evidence that people who claim to be
spiritual, but not religious, are more vulnerable to mental disorders. The
study researchers were also of the view that the matter needs to be researched
more in future.
The study can be concluded in two ways. It could be
either that spirituality somehow causes 'more mental health problems,
potentially through lack of social support increasing a person's vulnerability'
or that people develop spirituality 'potentially through searching for
alternative answers and explanations for their problems'. Thus, the dilemma
remains - which came first, the spirituality or the mental ill health.