Wednesday, January 09, 2013

"Spiritual but not Religious" and Mental Health

If the thought of hearing one more person tell you that they are spiritual but not religious is enough to drive you crazy, you thought wrong.

In the U.K., researchers have concluded that "People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder." This survey was reported in "CROSSROADS" a "Newsletter of the Center for Spirituality, Theology & Health" from Duke University. Here are some of the findings,

  1. 35% had a religious understanding of life,
  2. 19% had a spiritual understanding (but not religious),
  3. 46% said they were neither spiritual nor religious.
  4. Religious persons were 27% less likely to have ever used drugs.
  5. Religious persons were 19% less likely to be a hazardous drinker.  
  6. Those with a "spiritual" view of life (but not religious) were more likely to have ever used drugs, be dependent on drugs, have abnormal eating attitudes, experience generalized anxiety disorder, a phobia, or a neurotic disorder, and were 40% more likely to be taking psychiatric medication.  
Researchers concluded that "People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder." 

Citation: King MB, Marston L, McManus S, Brugha T, Metzer H, Bebbington P (2012). Religion, spirituality and mental health: Results from a national study of English households. British Journal of Psychiatry, November 22 [E-pub ahead of print]
Comment: This is the largest study to date reporting that those who describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious" (a growing category of people in the U.S. and Europe) have worse mental health. The authors did not explain why those who are spiritual but not religious have worse mental health, although admitted that the study was cross-sectional, so direction of causation could not be determined (i.e., the findings don't tell us whether being spiritual but not religious causes mental illness, or whether mental illness causes people to describe themselves as spiritual but not religious). 
My personal observations of the "spiritual but not religious" crowd cannot be quantified, but I have noted a tendency towards what I call, "flakiness." I don't know if there is a diagnostic code for that or not. "Flakes," when presented with a menu, tend to choose the spiritual fad du jour over traditional Christianity. Spiritual instability therefore might be a marker for psychological instability.   

I wonder if the guidance of right doctrine by established religion helps provide some of the effects on mental stability suggested by this survey. Of course, these surveys alway lead to more speculative questions than they answer. The problem with any kind of survey like this is the problem of definitions, in this case the definitions of "religious" or "spiritual" as well as the problem of what constitutes a mental disorder come to mind.

In addition to the authors' conclusions, the results seem to point to an overall decrease in "religiosity" in the U.K. Other attempts to measure this were highlighted in the "Religion in Great Britain" study (contemporary with the British Journal of Psychiatry report) which concluded that the numbers of people with no religion, while increasing, would not reach the 65% level until 2020 (65% figure obtained by adding the 19% "spiritual but not religious" plus the 46% "neither spiritual but not religious" reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry study cited above).
‘Between the fourth quarter of 2004 and the fourth quarter of 2010, the Christian  population fell from 78.0 per cent of the population to 69.4 per cent, while the group of people with no religion grew from 15.7 per cent to 22.4 per cent. ‘If these populations continue to shrink and grow by the same number of people each year, the number of people with no religion will overtake the number of Christians in Great Britain in 20 years, on this measure of religious affiliation.’ The Labour Force Survey asks people what religion they belong to, ‘even if you are not currently practising’ – a form of question which tends actually to underestimate the number who say they are non-believers.
Quite likely a great underestimation of the number of non-believers even though I wonder how one would quantify the actual number of non-believers. While applicable only to Christians, the surveyors might ask "Do you believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour?" I don't think that will ever happen in the current climate of "political correctness."  I guess that is a job for the guy guarding the pearly gates.
Stickmen from BeckySaysThings


  1. Very good. I'll be sharing (re-blogging) this soon on my web-site. Keep up the good work. And may God bless your Bishop and the faithful clergymen and parishioners who make up the Church in SC. Matt. 6:33

  2. Anonymous10:20 PM

    thanks for share.