In the past decade markedly, Americans have begun identifying less frequently as religious — but belief in God has, in one study, shown to be beneficial in the treatment of mental illness.
As the number of atheists increases per capita, the new study reveals faith may be a useful factor in treating mental illnesses.
The study, conducted at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, involved 159 patients at the Behavioral Health Partial Hospital and was published in Journal of Affective Disorders.
David Rosmarin is a clinician and instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and he explained that the patients in the study — whose stays in the facility lasted approximately two weeks — seemed to show different outcomes depending on whether they had faith in God.
“We found that patients who had higher levels of belief in God had better treatment outcomes — better well-being, less depression and less anxiety … Belief in God can facilitate belief in treatment … People who had more faith also had more faith in treatment. They thought it was credible and were optimistic about treatment. They believed it was going to help them.”
Patients who participated in the study were told to use a five point scale to determine both their faith in God and spiritual affiliations as well as their expectations as far as the efficacy of treatment. Researchers then weighed the results against their levels of anxiety, self-harm and depression at the end of their treatment — noting a difference between the believers and non-believers.
Interesting, patients who said their belief in God was more than “slight” were twice as likely to respond positively to their therapies, Rosmarin said, though he noted it was not clear why this was the case.
Christina Puchalski, founder and executive director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health in Washington, D.C., was not involved in the study, but spoke to LiveScience about its outcome:
“If people are able to see something outside of themselves, they tend to do better in general, so that’s not surprising … From my own clinical practice, I certainly see that if people are able to have some sense of transcendence, they often have better responses.”
“Spirituality can be broadly defined … It’s not just religion, or a belief in a higher power. The ability to connect to something outside of oneself — things like hope and being hopeful, or having a sense of coherence — it’s all part of spirituality.”
Rosmarin says the area of belief in God and mental illness requires more study, adding:
“It’s embarrassing that there’s such a disparity between what we know about patient spirituality, and how to handle it … It’s an area that’s relevant to us as a people, but we have no clue what to do about it.”