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Religious Practice: Personal Experience in Mental Health

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It was like any other regular day at Rehabilitation centre meeting families and reviewing the progress of residents but I was a for a sudden surprise when a parent wanted to discharge the resident on the recommendation of an Astrologer and perform a certain type of tantric rituals to ward off the evils. At the outset, the medical brain just dismisses these as non-scientific and not to support.  But the grey cells in the brain grown with experience of 13 years in Mental Health said no ‘You do not Know ‘. When I discussed with one of the senior Psychiatrists about this he said it’s a good thing.

None of us has been able to help and bring in any change and we have no business to say no if somebody says he might help and we should encourage family as all scientific evidence-based interventions and management has had little or no impact.

Mr A is a 35-Year-old boy having mental health issues, personality issues and substance use problem as well. The parents have been very religious in following every instruction of the professionals to the dot. The boy is treated by who’s in psychiatry and super-specialists, has had all forms of treatment. Parents are those whom you can call Ideal guardians following and willing to do anything suggested by professionals if there is evidence and are known to be helpful.  I cannot remember a particular combination of medication that was not tried and therapy that was not initiated. The end result being the NULL effect on behaviour.

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This brought a wonderful question “Is there Evidence for Religious Practices? Do Religious Practices have any impact on Mental Health?” Results were interesting. In one of the articles of the Royal College of Psychiatrists by Dr Simon Dien, it is said “…On balance being religious results in more hope and optimism and life satisfaction (Koenig 2009), less depression and faster remission of depression (Koenig 2007, Smith, McCullough and Poll 2003), lower rates of suicide (Van Praag 2009), reduced prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse (Cook, Goddard and Westall 1997) and reduced delinquency (Johnson, Larson and McCullough 2000).

The article further goes on to say “Although the predominant focus of the extant literature on religion and mental health is on Christianity, there has been recent work on Islam (Abu raiyah and Khalil 2009), Judaism (Rosmarin et al. 2009) and Hinduism (Tarakeshwar, Pargament and Mahoney 2003) suggesting that those who are religious have better indices of mental health”

In an interesting article on the Impact of Spirituality on Mental Health issues- a review of Literature by Dr Deborah Cornah on behalf of the Mental Health Foundation it is observed that “Findings show that a collaborative approach to religious coping (i.e. the individual collaborates with ‘God’ in coping with stress) is associated with the greatest improvement in mental health.

Similarly, perceiving negative events as externally caused and positive events as internally caused is widely regarded as an ‘optimistic’ attributional style and is generally associated with better mental health”.

One review of the literature has suggested that religious beliefs may allow a person to reframe or reinterpret events that are seen as uncontrollable, in such a way as to make them less stressful or more meaningful.

The support individuals derive from the members, leaders and clergy of religious congregations is widely considered one of the key mediators between spirituality and mental health. As with other forms of social support, spiritual or religious support can be a valuable source of self-esteem, information, companionship and practical help that enables people to cope with stress and negative life events or exerts its own main effects.

Some researchers have argued that certain expressions or elements of spirituality may positively affect various physiological mechanisms involved in health. Emotions encouraged in many spiritual traditions, including hope, contentment, love and forgiveness, may serve the individual by affecting the neural pathways that connect to the endocrine and immune systems. A final mechanism that may mediate the relationship between spirituality and mental health is the environment. As well as specific ‘spiritual’ buildings and architecture – such as churches, temples or mosques – nature, art and music may all have an impact upon mental health”.

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In American Journal of Psychiatry 2017 volume 11 Issue 7 an article on Religious barriers to Mental Health care that author clearly states “ As psychiatrists, we should be aware of both the opportunities and barriers for patients with religious involvement to receive appropriate care. In particular, understanding religiosity and its effect on service use imply that we need to build new approaches to improve the service delivery to patients who have religious involvement and coordinate with the faith-based services. From a research standpoint, there is a strong need to understand faith-based factors that may improve access to mental healthcare”.

It is needless to say that there is no compulsion for a professional to accept or reject something which is not his area of expertise or exposure but there is certainly no harm in assimilating as long as it helps the person for whom is responsible as a doctor.

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