Elizabeth Norton
A Champion of Hope for a Far Better World
Elizabeth Norton
A Champion of Hope for a Far Better World
Blog Post

The Role Christian Faith Can Play in Mental Health

May 16, 2024 Uncategorized

Elizabeth Norton Gray

Atlantic Cape Community College

General Psychology

Professor Bolicki 

April 15, 2024

           

– I have been a member of the Christian community since my conception. I was raised to believe that there was a God above and hell under my feet and to keep my eyes looking up.  Along with that, came a strict set of Biblical rules and standards to follow along with expectations. I loved Jesus deep in my heart as a child, committed my life to him and dedicated all of my being to God to be used for His purpose. Humans are tripartite beings with a spirit, mind, and a body.  I began a personal relationship with God when I was 7. My personal faith helped me manage the healthiness of my soul and spirit in times of distress in many ways.  The Christian Faith can be mentally healthy and not healthy. The mind and mental health are complex and religion is as well.  

       There is no doubt that any faith requires a healthy balance between following the Bible, your spiritual leaders and your own independent ideas and beliefs and if this is not done it can be taken to a dangerous extreme. According to Bobby Azarian Ph.D. in Psychology Today, “Christian fundamentalism is a parasitic ideology that inserts itself into brains, commanding individuals to act and think in a certain way—a rigid way that is intolerant to competing ideas.”  Like many other things such as alcohol, drug use, social relationships, religion has the possibility of being taken to an unhealthy mental space. Christian fundamentalism is an intense and strict approach to the Bible and can even be, in some cases, can be considered a mental disorder in itself.  I would say, to some degree, I was raised as a fundamentalist. 

      My Christian Faith set me apart from the crowd and made me come to terms that I will always and forever be different because of the light that remained inside of me. This was a jagged little pill for me to swallow during the teen years and the beginning of my career as a blogger/writer in the public relations space. I was raised with a strict interpretation of the Bible.    Sometimes fundamentalists look different, Through dress, abstaining from mainstream music and dance; this is an example of creating a cultural divide with society’s norms. Society wants you to conform, while religion wants you to be different. This dilemma is mentally taxing. There are many interpretations of the Christian faith. Religion can create a rigid belief system, a deep fear of punishment, and cognitive distancing.  Many trauma can be experienced through this belief system, especially for the offspring of the believer.  A parent, trying to do what they believe is best for their child, can cause trauma by strict Biblical teaching. Mental health comes into play when they reach adulthood and are confronted with societal norms.  Turmoil of different information then what has been poured into their brain for years takes a toll. Strict Biblical interpretation can be hard to unlearn and deconstruct from.  

           In addition to taking religion to the extreme there is also the mental trauma “church hurt”, the mental and emotional heart break of when the church, a group of people, can fail one of its members. Where humans find community they will also encounter power struggles, the ego, imperfect people, greed, judgment and worse.  It is important and healthy to realize that Christian faith is not just religion but a personal spiritual journey.  I believe it is possible to be spiritual without going to church every Sunday and to find the joy of the Lord even while the world is at its worst.  “Church hurt” can affect our mental health. It is very common and unfortunately in all churches, in some way, inevitably. But, I encourage people to consider that the Christian faith is so much more than your relationship with people in the church but is much more your own relationship with your own creator.  

         With the potential of discovering the majestic relationship with a higher power, you can find how mental health can be helped by the Christian Faith.  While church hurt can be real and fundamentalism requires balance, so is the undeniable support that is offered when you find like minded individuals.  Social support is deeply connected to your emotional health.  Religious communities often provide a supportive social network to fight battles that are often unseen in the general public.  When matters of the heart are heavy, having a sense of belonging and community is a fantastic thing. This can be beneficial for mental health, especially during times of stress, sickness, divorce, loss, natural disaster, and/or job termination. For example, researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills, and health-related quality of life (even during terminal illness) and less anxiety, depression, and suicide. Several studies have shown that addressing the spiritual needs of the patient may enhance recovery from illness. I have felt stronger in my own life because I was surrounded and supported by people many times from my church. 

         For some individuals, Christian beliefs can serve as a positive coping mechanism. Christianity can provide a sense of purpose other than one’s self. It can provide comfort and hope during challenging times.  Especially in trauma, this is important when encountering questions that are beyond your own comprehension and the question is often, “why?” To be able to still your heart and know, without doubt because your faith is so strong, that God is in control.  This can greatly ease your mind. Christian beliefs may offer a clear sense of identity and purpose, providing individuals with a framework for understanding the world and their role in it.  80% of research on spirituality/religiousness and health, focuses on mental health. This is because most associations with faith are related to how one thinks about the world and their role in it. Words that are often associated with religious beliefs include connectedness, hope, optimism, trust and purpose. All of which have been shown to boost mental health. Compassion, forgiveness and gratefulness are also qualities that are strongly associated with individuals who are spiritual and religious. Practicing these qualities is thought to be associated with deceased stress and increased resiliency.

– Religion, such as Christianity, can also help clarify the difference between right and wrong.  It can provide biblical guidelines that can shape ethical behaviors. When it is time to abstain from over drinking or recognizing the signs of addiction within yourself it can help you make choices that are good for your mental health.  Christianity can help shape behavior and healthy decision-making, contributing to a sense of moral clarity and knowing that you were put here on this earth for a God given reason and purpose. 

  Prayer can be a type of cognitive therapy. Reciting prayers, chanting mantras and engaging in deep contemplation affect worshipers in multiple ways. These practices slow breathing and brighten emotional states, with a direct positive impact on the cardiovascular system. They alter thought processes, imbuing situations that might seem hopeless with a sense of optimism, which is also linked to improved health. During life changes prayer has the opportunity to help manage your emotions and channel your feelings in a healthy way.

– The pressure to be an example of my faith, my spirituality, and belonging to an organized religion has not always been easy nor would I say mentally healthy for me; however, my faith has kept me grounded in times of distress, giving in times of need, forgiving in times of personal hurt, brave in times of political conflict and more. 

 – Many mental health discussion topics can further be discussed such as martyrism or spirit sightings. Even with the disadvantages of Christian religion, I have still chosen to raise my kids up to be spiritually strong, know they are loved by the creator of all, apply the Bible when making big decisions, pray when conflicted, and love even in disagreement.  I hope they continue with these things when they turn to adults.  When life is hard, I will know they will have a spiritual foundation that can help their mental health.  

– Even though my footnotes didn’t carry over from my original paper, I wanted to include my resource links on my post.

Resources

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-in-the-machine/201810/how-religious-fundamentalism-hijacks-the-brain

https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)62799-7/pdf

https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolefisher/2019/03/29/science-says-religion-is-good-for-your-health/amp/

https://www.wsj.com/articles/is-religion-good-for-your-health-921814a7

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