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How do Different Indian Religions Perceive Mental Health and Therapy?

In recent years, religion and mental health have independently garnered public attention and come under great scrutiny. While religion has been criticized for its stronghold on politics, the significance of mental health has gained centerstage during the pandemic. Nevertheless, research on the intersection of religion and mental health remains limited. This might stem from the opinion that religion and mental wellness are regarded as polar opposite entities. While religion is considered an unscientific social creation, mental health and therapy are rooted in scientific facts and knowledge. However, dearth of data and lack of conceived common ground does not imply that religion and mental health are not interconnected disciplines.

How Buddhism perceives mental health
Spurce: Pixabay

In fact, certain studies have proved that a person’s religious inclination might actually reduce hopelessness and existential dread by providing them a stable set of beliefs to abide by. Many religious practices and beliefs entail social gatherings and proceedings which ensure that people feel connected to each other and do not experience alienation or social anxiety. Religious tenets also provide guidelines to resolve social conflicts and emotional upheavals in one’s life. However, not all religious practices and beliefs are conducive to an individual’s mental wellbeing and a positive mindset.

A religiously inclined person is prone to experiencing guilt or shame when they fail to follow spiritual guidelines. Moreover, religion might also reduce a person’s independence and autonomy to live their life as they want to. Finally, not all religious beliefs are scientifically sound and might foster irrationality and loss of critical thought. While the aforementioned effects of religion on an individual’s mental health are generalized, people belonging to specific religious communities have observed how their particular faith does or does not cater to their mental well-being.

Table of Contents

#1: Mental Health in Hinduism

How Hinduism perceives mental health
Source: Unsplash

Hinduism, in India and abroad is identified with the practice of Yoga. Yoga is a Hindu spiritual practice that entails physical and meditative exercises to bring about a state of peace and serenity. Exercise regimes in Yoga not only promote physical well-being but also encourage self-reflection, pensive contemplation, and relaxation. Generally, too, Hinduism contains beliefs and principles that encourage its believers to detest anger, spite, jealousy, hatred, and other negative emotions. Religious scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedas, and the Upanishads preach detachment from the material world to attain happiness. Many gurus and yogis stress the importance of generating happiness from within rather than finding it through external sources. However, Hinduism fails to scientifically and sensitively understand mental disorders and diseases.

The concept of karma and rebirth in Hindu spirituality maintains that if a person is born with a mental disorder or experiences mental illness during his/her lifetime, it must be because they have committed unforgivable sins in their past births. The person’s wrongful actions in their past life need to be repented, and this repentance/punishment comes in the form of mental or physical ailments. It is imperative to note here that this irrational and unscientific belief leads to the stigmatization of people suffering from mental illnesses or physical disabilities. This factor, combined with Hindu conservatism in India discourages people from asking for help from therapists and counsellors. Therefore, while Hinduism might emphasize physical well-being through yoga and self-reflection through its scriptures, a few beliefs of this faith taboo narratives pertaining to mental health and emotional well-being.

#2: Mental Health in Islam

How does Islam perceive mental health?
Source: Unsplash

India is home to thousands of Muslim communities who practice, preach and propagate their faith in the country. Holy scriptures of Islam, including the Quran and the Sunnah, mention the mental wellness of a believer. The Quran describes the detrimental effects of negative emotions on a person’s psyche and provides guidelines to ease and improve one’s mental condition. It teaches its followers to strike a balance between the three selves- The Commanding Self, The Accusatory Self and the Peaceful Self. One can maintain balance by practicing mindfulness and meditation. Scientists and researchers have concluded that this principle is similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy used by contemporary doctors and psychiatrists. Moreover, historians also point that some of the first mental health clinics were founded in Arabic countries, where Islam was practiced widely. Finally, the Quran briefly explains Islamic psychotherapy as well, which has long intrigued and interested Western mental health officials and doctors.

#3: Mental Health in Sikhism

How does Sikhism perceive mental health?
Source: Unsplash

Regardless of its recent origins, Sikhism includes doctrines and principles on mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Even though Guru Granth Sahib does not explicitly mention these terms, their implicit presence is apparent. Like Hinduism, the holy scriptures of Sikhism state that suffering from mental agony and depression is a sign of bad karmic actions performed during the last birth. However, instead of considering these as marks of repentance and punishment, Sikhs view mental illnesses as gifts from the Lord. The text also persuades individuals to seek “medication” although it does not attach a lot of importance to it. Finally, the text suggests that to seek therapy to cure depression and anxiety, the individual must listen to the word of the God, practice Sikhism and abide by the Lord’s teachings.

#4: Mental Health in Christianity

How does Christianity perceive mental health?
Source: Pixabay

In India, many Christians suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and others. However, most are hesitant to seek help from professional therapists and counsellors. Instead, they turn to their church and pastor.

The practice of confessing sins to the church pastor is considered to be akin to receiving therapy. Even so, pastors and church officials are not experts and are ill-equipped to handle issues concerning serious mental illness. They advise Christians to seek help from God instead of tangibly acting upon their illnesses. This factor combined with the Christian belief that sadness and depression are a form of repentance for past sins lead to stigmatization of therapy. Many Christians continue to believe that if they suffer from any serious mental disease, they have not served God faithfully and must do their best to become a good Christian. These factors contribute to Christians not availing help from experts and blaming themselves and their lack of sincerity for their mental trauma.

#5: Mental Health in Buddhism and Jainism

How do Buddhism and Jainism perceive mental health?
Source: Unsplash

Both Jainism and Buddhism are associated with sadhus or monks who lead a detached life. Austerity and simplicity are important constituents of these religions. Meditative exercises prescribed by Buddhist and Jain leaders have helped several followers ease depression and anxiety. Hymns and mantras of these religions are known to increase concentration and help a person relax. Buddhist teachings have encouraged followers to view any disability or illness as a part of life and its transient nature. Its teachings have persuaded its followers to practice empathy and be inclusive of all people. Both religions have also prompted the establishment of centers where people can adopt the meditation practices of these faiths if they cannot avail themselves of therapy.

Concluding Thoughts

While society might think of religion and mental health in dichotomous terms, both practices are interconnected. Religion and spiritual practices guide an individual through the ups and downs of his/her life. Mental health facilities such as therapy play a similar role in the life of an individual. It is imperative to conduct more research on the intersection of religion and mental health, especially in the Indian scenario. This is because India has a history of stigmatization pertaining to mental health. As previously mentioned, religion and spirituality can improve the mental well-being of individuals.

Therefore, it would be prudent to implement religious/spiritual psychotherapy in a country like India. Finally, by using neuroscientific knowledge about mental illnesses, ardent religious followers could be made aware of the inaccuracy of certain religious tenets which promote the stigmatization of mental health.

prerana thakur pratha content writer


Prerana Thakur

Pratha Content Writer


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