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01 Sep 2015 | BY John Munroe

Spirituality is an issue which is crucial to many people, particularly to those experiencing distress in their lives. It can provide a sense of belonging and hope as well as enhance coping strategies and sense of control. However we can often overlook the spiritual needs of people with mental health problems.

What do we mean by spirituality?

Spirituality is not the same as religion. However religion can be the focus of an individual’s spirituality or the way in which an individual’s spirituality is recognised and expressed.

Spirituality represents whatever gives an individual’s life meaning, purpose and fulfilment; that which makes life worth living or meaningful to live.

What constitutes spirituality and how it affects an individuals mental well being is ultimately unique to that person. Each person may experience their spirituality differently.

Spiritual Practices

A range of spiritual practices may be important to an individual. These activities may include:

Belonging to a faith tradition
Ritual and symbolic practices and other forms of worship
Meditation and prayer
Reading scripture
Yoga and Tai Chi
Engaging with and enjoying nature
Engaging in creative activities including art, cookery, gardening etc.
Maintaining stable family relationships and friendships

How can spirituality support mental health?

Spirituality has been shown to assist people in developing stronger coping styles.

Spiritual beliefs may assist people coping with and interpreting events or experiences, meaning they feel they have more control over events in their lives.

An individual’s mental health is often supported through engagement with members and leaders of religious congregations

Spirituality, Culture and Ethnicity

An individual with a mental health problem may understand their problem from their own cultural and ethnic perspective, which may differ from the UK dominant white culture. It is therefore imperative that mental health practitioners understand the role of culture and ethnicity in a patient’s life and take into account cultural sensitivities and relevant explanations to mental health problems.

What does all this mean to us?

As managers and clinicians we should:

Recognise that spirituality needs to be considered as part of the whole person approach to care and treatment. We should therefore ask patients about their spiritual and religious need.
Acknowledge everyone has spiritual needs but that they may not recognise their activities or needs as being spiritual.
Acknowledge and understand that peoples spiritual needs differ and that we need to take into account their culture and ethnicity.
Provide spiritual resources which are meaningful and appropriate e.g. art activities, discussion groups as well as providing access to faith activities.

Information sourced from: Mental Health Foundation 2008 Executive Briefing ‘Spirituality and mental health’.

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