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Religion, mental illness, and health care

08 February 2013


From Canon John Foskett
Sir, - I was fascinated to read your report "Neuroses of 'spiritual' people surveyed" ( News, 25 January). The research reaches very interesting and important conclusions both for those who have mental illnesses in which religion and/or spirituality play a big part, and for those of us who care for them and wish to support them in their religious/spiritual practice and beliefs.

In a study in Somerset in 2000, we explored the relationship between mental health, spirituality, and religion (Taken Seriously: The Somerset spirituality project, 2002). We found that for many of those we interviewed, their mental-health problems, though painful and traumatising, actually contributed to their religious and spiritual growth and development, or so they believed. Some were helped by being a part of a religious or spiritual group and having their beliefs, however extraordinary, accepted and understood.

Others who met with incomprehension and rejection by either psychiatric or religious professionals felt more traumatised and alone with their feelings and beliefs. They did not regret the experience, terrible as it often was, however, because they felt that their beliefs were important and fruitful to them.

The research at University College seems to confirm the greater dis-ease among those whose spirituality is held more individually and less corporately. "Another possible explanation for our find-ing concerning people with a spiritual life view is that they are caught up in an existential search that is driven by their emotional distress."

It was our conclusion that such people especially benefit from an understanding and acceptance of their beliefs by those caring for them. However uncertain we may feel about their experiences, they need to be acknowledged; not ignored, pathologised, or demonised.

Adviser in religion and spirituality
to Somerset Partnership NHS
Foundation Trust
8 Cornwall Road
Dorchester DTI 1RT

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