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.
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.
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#1: Mental Health in Hinduism
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
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
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