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Faith and mental health care

People diagnosed with clinical depression who believe in a concerned God can respond better to medical treatment than others, according to a paper recently published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

The study found that patients with strong beliefs in a personal and concerned God were more likely to experience improvement. Those who scored in the top third of the “Religious Well-Being Scale” were 75-percent more likely to get better with medical treatment.

A 2008 Gallup poll found that 78 percent of respondents expressed a belief in God, 15 percent expressed a belief in a higher power and only 6 percent said they didn’t believe in either.

The discussion of religion or spirituality is often missing from mental health treatment. People may be afraid to discuss religious experiences with their mental health care providers for fear that their mental state might be misinterpreted. Doctors and therapists may be uncertain about how to respond. Some may be reluctant to bring up matters of faith, especially those in government-funded programs.

But for some people seeking mental health treatment, issues of faith are an important part of their experience. They may feel anger at God for their suffering or they may wonder if God forgives them for things they’ve done. They may thank God for their survival of their mental illness.

Nancy Kehoe, a nun and a psychologist, writes in Wrestling With our Inner Angels: Faith, Mental Illness and the Journey to Wholeness that “respecting the spiritual and religious beliefs of those who suffer from mental illness actually opens the way to greater meaning, support, even healing.”

The positive response to medication by those in the study, according to Patricia Murphy, PhD, a chaplain at Rush University Medical Center and an assistant professor of religion, health and human values at Rush University in Chicago, “…was tied specifically to the belief that a Supreme Being cared.”

“For people diagnosed with clinical depression, medication certainly plays an important role in reducing symptoms,” Murphy said. “But when treating persons diagnosed with depression, clinicians need to be aware of the role of religion in their patients’ lives. It is an important resource in planning their care.”

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