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Spirituality May Boost Mental Health: Study

Forgiveness emerged as the most telling trait among people in five religions

THURSDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Spirituality can be uplifting for your mental health, according to a new study.

University of Missouri researchers examined the results of three surveys that asked Buddhists, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Protestants about their personalities, levels of spirituality and physical and mental health.

Among people in all five faiths, a greater degree of spirituality was associated with better mental health -- specifically lower levels of neuroticism and greater extraversion. After considering personality variables, the researchers concluded that forgiveness was the only spiritual trait predictive of mental health.

The study recently appeared in the Journal of Religion and Health.

Spirituality may help people's mental health by reducing their self-centeredness and developing their sense of belonging to a larger whole, said study co-author Dan Cohen, an assistant teaching professor of religious studies.

"In many ways, the results of our study support the idea that spirituality functions as a personality trait," Cohen said in a university news release. "With increased spirituality, people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe. What was interesting was that frequency of participation in religious activities or the perceived degree of congregational support was not found to be significant in the relationships between personality, spirituality, religion and health."

"Our prior research shows that the mental health of people recovering from different medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury, appears to be related significantly to positive spiritual beliefs and especially congregational support and spiritual interventions," Cohen said. "Spiritual beliefs may be a coping device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress."

The relationship between spirituality and health could prove helpful in health care, the researchers suggested. For example, treatments and rehabilitation programs could be tailored to accommodate a person's spiritual beliefs.

Although the study found an association between spirituality and mental health, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about spirituality and health.


SOURCE: University of Missouri, news release, Aug. 20, 2012

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