Spiritual therapy can help reduce depression, anger and other mood disorders, and it can help people overcome their own negative experiences, a University of Manitoba study has found.
The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, looked at over 500 participants from the Manitoba mental health care system.
The research team used an online mental health service to look at the mental health and wellbeing of more than 800 people aged 18 and older, including both healthy people and those with depression or other mental disorders.
They also looked at the spiritual use of spirituality, which they say can be a form of self-medication.
“We were looking at spiritual counselling,” said lead researcher Dr. Elizabeth O’Sullivan, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Winnipeg.
“We found that when we looked at a lot of people with depression and anxiety disorders, we saw a lot more people who were spiritual.”
The study found that people who reported that they had a strong spirituality and believed that their lives are a spiritual one were more likely to be successful at attaining better outcomes in mental health.
The study is the first to look into the link between spirituality and mental health outcomes, said O’ Sullivan.
She said it is difficult to tease out the specific causes of mental health issues.
“It’s really hard to identify a single thing that leads to mental health, but we know that depression and bipolar disorder are often linked to spiritual and spiritual related problems,” she said.
The researchers say the findings could be useful for those who are considering seeking help for depression or bipolar disorder, but also for people who have a mental health problem but have not been treated.
O’Sullivan said there is a growing body of research suggesting that spirituality may be an important part of mental wellness.
“There are certain things that we know for certain that the more we know about spirituality and how it relates to the brain and its structure, the more that we can be sure that the underlying brain processes and brain activity are being addressed in order to improve health outcomes,” she added.
The findings come as research in the United States suggests that the mental and spiritual components of spirituality may help prevent the development of depression and other psychiatric disorders.
The American Psychological Association has recommended that researchers look at whether spiritual and religious practice could improve mental health or promote recovery from disorders.
The APA has also been studying the effects of religious practices in the prevention and treatment of depression, including whether they reduce depressive symptoms.
O’mens report is part of a larger project by the University, the University Health Network, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other partners looking at the linkages between spirituality, mental health disorders and the health of older people.