Religion or belief in the existence of a higher being is practiced by almost 80% of Americans. Many of our choices and decisions in life are influenced by religion. Moreover, people also seek comfort and solace in their faith during trying times. Practicing a religion is advantageous in the society since it promotes social order, morality, and sense of unity; however, some may argue that there is a fine line between religion and mental illness. In fact, mental health professional in Western culture labels religion as irrational, dependency forming and outdated which results in emotional instability.
This was not always the case; psychiatry and religion were once closely connected. The church and religious institutions were responsible for the care of the mentally ill because it was believed that mental illness is caused by the devil.
According to Ann Olson Psy.D., “although knowledge related to the physiology of brain functioning is complex, there is no question that the environment contributes significantly to the processes of the brain.”
Since religion is an integral part of an individual, various studies are geared towards studying the relationship between religion and schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is defined as a disabling and chronic condition with impairments in multiple domains of functioning. The treatment of schizophrenia involves biopsychosocial model and pharmacological interventions.
Religious Practices among individuals with Schizophrenia
A study conducted in Switzerland suggests that one-third of patients are highly involved in the religious community and carry out spiritual practices every day without the involvement of any religious community. Also, there is a research on the comparison of practiced religious activities among patients with schizophrenia and the general population and it shows that there is higher involvement from schizophrenic patients.
Religion and psychopathology
Religious hallucination and delusions show direct reference to common religious themes (e.g. prayer, sin, evil) or religious figures (e.g. Prophet, God, and the devil). Studies on the prevalence of hallucination and religious delusions vary from country to country ranging from 6% up to 63.3%. The common themes of religious delusion are persecution by malevolent entities, controlled by spiritual entities and delusions of grandeur (see oneself as God, Jesus, saints, etc.)
Religion as a coping mechanism
Religious coping is the usage of religious beliefs or behaviors to facilitate problem-solving strategies to alleviate the emotional burden of stressful events in life. Religious coping is categorized as positive, negative and mixed. Examples of positive religious coping strategies include support from members/clergy, religious conversion/direction, religious helping, and forgiveness/purification. The negative religious coping techniques include religious discontent, spiritual discontent, demonic reappraisal, passive religious deferral and pleading for direct intercession. Religious rituals in response to the crisis, pleading and deferring are some example of coping strategies with mixed implications. Recent studies imply that 80% of patients use religious coping to deal with their illness. Research revealed that benevolent religious reappraisal was linked with better adjustment, well-being and lesser personal loss from mental illness while negative religious coping has been associated with lower quality of life.
Religion and explanation of their illness by the patients with schizophrenia
“Patients diagnosed with schizophrenia do not present with a split personality, nor is it common for someone with the disorder to be violent,” says Simon Rego, PsyD. Many patients with schizophrenia claim that their illness is non-medical in nature. They claimed that their illness is due to family problems, inner turmoil, economic difficulties, supernatural causes such as ghosts, witches or jinns, spiritual/mystical factors, evil spirits, sorcery and divine wrath.
Religion and help-seeking behavior
Many patients seek healing from faith healers, priests, village healer prior to seeking medical management of mental illness. Upon the appearance of signs of psychosis, religious or indigenous healing methods are the first step of treatment considered by society especially in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In general, there is still the stigma in seeking mental help among persons with mental disorders. This prevents them from getting the appropriate treatment and will resort to indigenous or natural healing treatments. But it is always important to remember that “you can increase your confidence and energy, reduce disorganized thoughts, and even become more involved in social activities,” says Jacqueline Simon Gunn, PsyD, a New York City psychologist.