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Neuroses of 'spiritual' people surveyed

25 January 2013

MENTAL-health problems are as prevalent among those who define themselves as religious as among those who are non-religious, a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggests.

Researchers at University College, London, analysed the findings of interviews with 7403 adults in England. Thirty-five per cent of those who responded said that they had a religious understanding of life, defined as "the actual practice of a faith, e.g. going to a temple, mosque, church, or synagogue", and 19 per cent defined themselves as "spiritual" - they "do not follow a religion, but do have spiritual beliefs or experiences". The remainder were neither religious nor spiritual.

The researchers found "few substantial differences" in the prevalence of mental disorder, or receipt of treatment, between people with no religious or spiritual understanding and those who were religious, except that there was less drug use and hazardous drinking in the latter.

The Vicar of West Harrow, the Revd William Van Der Hart, who is one of the directors of Mind and Soul, an organisation exploring Christianity and mental health, said that the finding about the prevalence of mental ill-health among those who defined themselves as religious reflected his own experience.

"Many are determined to enter into the church or the mosque because they are seeking support for their vulnerability; so it would not surprise me that there is maybe a higher prevalence for some mental-health disorders - particularly neurotic ones - in church."

While the church community provided "great comfort and support", he said, this did not mean that there was "some kind of im- penetrable shield provided for faithful followers of Jesus Christ, that somehow they won't become unwell."

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