Posts Tagged ‘Science & Medical’

Dr Gerhard Roth: Dark side of the brain where evil lurks, Grace and Neuroplasticity

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

A German neurologist claims to have identified a specific brain configuration within which he says ‘evil lurks”. Measuring brain waves on violent criminals whilst watching ‘brutal scenes’ revealed a “dark patch” in their frontal brain. This area believed to be responsible for compassion and sorrow, showed no activity.

Dr Roth’s research has led him to believe “that some criminals have a ‘genetic predisposition’ to violence.”

This strikes me as rather deterministic which seems to be the trend of modern neurology and Dr Roth cites a 66% probability of an adolescent with this brain anomaly going on to become a felon.

But then Dr Roth makes this observation:

Dr Roth believes that criminal mental decline “begins in the kindergarten”, but a positive parental environment and strong societal support can easily stop the child going on to offend.

Equally, a negative domestic situation could easily lead to a child otherwise moderately pre-disposed to violence, to become a hardened criminal.

This almost seems to contradict the earlier determinism.

Last year I spoke with a clinical psychologist on the subject of psychopathy and the observation that stood out most starkly for me was from her experience of psychopaths, the vast majority had experienced a childhood of extreme brutality and neglect.

With the growing understanding of Neuroplasticity or ‘Brain Plasticity’ within which physical brain changes in neural pathways and synapses can occur as a result of environment and behaviour changes, can we write anyone off as simply ‘genetic predisposed’ to violence?

As an relevant example of Neuroplasticity I read recently of soldiers suffering PTSD as a result of combat had evidence of neurological brain changes.

As with everything pertaining to the nature / nurture debate I suspect that physical brain abnormalities of ‘dark patches where evil lurks’ are as much a product of the environment as anything else. And it would seem that Dr Roth also holds that view with his comments on ‘positive parental environment and strong societal support’.

I assume that Dr Roth here is advocating an environmental buffer against genetic predisposition.

I don’t believe that any single person is beyond the pale of God’s grace. To accept that they are, is in some way, for me, to denigrate God, or undermine his salvific power.

There may of course be those so given to their evil inclinations they would reject the grace and light of God. But I would not view this as deterministic, but of self-will.

The question I would dearly love to have answered: Are there Neuroplastic changes when a person accepts faith in God? As this process may involve complete reversal in thinking and behaviour (and possibly environment), especially for the adult convert, could this precipitate positive neurological changes?

Just wondering……

UPDATE: Thinking on it would be interesting to compare the recidivism rates between criminal Christian converts and others. If the recidivism rate is reduced in violent criminal converts, then could this potentially be evidence of neuroplasticity in action?

I don’t know of any research of this type, but would be very interesting….

Study: UK spiritual participants three times more likely to experience episode of depression than secular group

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

I’m probably posting this as I’m surfacing from a long dark tunnel.

An international longitudinal study purports to find a greater incidence of developing a major depression among ‘participants reporting a spiritual understanding of life’:

Spiritual and religious beliefs as risk factors for the onset of major depression: an international cohort study.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Several studies have reported weak associations between religious or spiritual belief and psychological health. However, most have been cross-sectional surveys in the USA, limiting inference about generalizability. An international longitudinal study of incidence of major depression gave us the opportunity to investigate this relationship further. Method Data were collected in a prospective cohort study of adult general practice attendees across seven countries. Participants were followed at 6 and 12 months. Spiritual and religious beliefs were assessed using a standardized questionnaire, and DSM-IV diagnosis of major depression was made using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI). Logistic regression was used to estimate incidence rates and odds ratios (ORs), after multiple imputation of missing data.

RESULTS:

The analyses included 8318 attendees. Of participants reporting a spiritual understanding of life at baseline, 10.5% had an episode of depression in the following year compared to 10.3% of religious participants and 7.0% of the secular group (p < 0.001). However, the findings varied significantly across countries, with the difference being significant only in the UK, where spiritual participants were nearly three times more likely to experience an episode of depression than the secular group [OR 2.73, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.59-4.68]. The strength of belief also had an effect, with participants with strong belief having twice the risk of participants with weak belief. There was no evidence of religion acting as a buffer to prevent depression after a serious life event.

CONCLUSIONS:

These results do not support the notion that religious and spiritual life views enhance psychological well-being.

A few things to note. I don’t have access to the full study and so have no way of knowing how they defined ‘spiritual or religious’ belief. We also have the causality problem, within which we cannot tell if spirituality / religion precipitated depression, or if those with underlying depression were drawn to  ’a spiritual understanding of life’.

This aside, I was drawn to this study for three reasons.

The first is the strange anomaly of the UK finding. Why would it be that specifically in the UK the religious / spiritual group reports three times higher incidence of depression compared with the secular group? If we take the study findings at face value and accept that spirituality / religion precipitates depression, then would this indicate that it is particularly cognitively difficult to hold this worldview within the social environment of the UK?

The second point of interest – which is perhaps connected to the first – is the finding that strength of belief has an impact, with those of ‘stronger belief’ being more prone to depression than those with ‘weak belief’.

The third point, is of course the conclusion itself; namely, the assertion that a religious / spiritual worldview does not create a buffer against depression.

I’m probably not alone in reading material that contradicts this conclusion; however, from my own personal perspective, I can attest to the fact that my Christian religion most certainly does not counteract, or in any way, mitigate my own depression. In fact, quite the contrary.

I will say that my religion does give comfort in relation to making some sense of suffering.

The question on my mind is simply: Is the Christian religion supposed to create a buffer against suffering; mental or otherwise?

I think not.

Is human nature essentially good or bad? Let’s ask babies.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Lesley over on Heretics Anonymous fears there are two Christian Churches divided by fundamental beliefs. Whilst Lesley highlights four beliefs, I want to focus on the following:

One Church views humans as ‘essentially fallen’ whilst the other as ‘essentially good’.

Lesley is entirely correct in this observation. I would posit this difference is a product of theology and that perhaps there is room in the one church for fundamentally different perspectives, but that is another matter.

I used to be in the ‘essentially fallen’ camp derived from a hyper-Calvinistic and somewhat pessimistic view of humanity, but now incorporating and taking on board Catholic teaching, view humans as ’essentially good’ as a by-product of being made in the image of God.

And it looks like some recent research supports this.

The best way to get under the bonnet of human hard-wiring is to conduct research on those of us with the minimum of cultural influences, and that of course is babies.

At this point I’d like to direct you to a blog post on this issue over on Mind Hacks, detailing a fascinating experiment which indicates babies not only infer motive, but have an in-built preference towards ‘good motives’.

Is The Christian Concept of Gay Conversion Therapy Fundamentally Flawed?

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Following my earlier post on an upcoming Christian seminar pushing the validity of ‘Reparative Therapy’ or ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’ I received the following Tweet:


This set off a lightbulb within me and a chain of thoughts.

If Christians regard homosexuality as a spiritual issue – and the practice as a sin – then why turn to ‘gay conversion’ psychological therapy.

Is it that some Christians believe homosexuality to be a mental disorder that can be treated? This explanation is the only reason I can think of to advocate psychological therapy.

If not a mental disorder, then continuing this line of reasoning, if psychological therapy is appropriate for this particular ‘spiritual problem’ then why not all spiritual issues?

Why is psychological therapy not advocated for all sinful temptations?

Could it not be equally argued that all sinful temptations are environmentally produced – as opposed to hard-wired – and in need of rectification through psychological therapy, as is posited for sexual orientation.

If sexual orientation is a mental disorder to be ‘cured’ through therapy, can we confidently even consider the practice of homosexuality as sin any longer?

Are sexual orientation temptations in some way qualitatively different to any other temptations of the flesh?

Of course, the irony is that those Christians pushing for Conversion Therapy are usually to be found most ardently in the anti-psychology camp.

These thoughts have only just occurred to me and so I’m thinking on the fly.

Feel free to chip in.

Core Issues Trust, NARTH and Dr Joseph Berger: LGBT Mental Health Issues

Monday, January 21st, 2013

An article on Anglican Mainstream caught my attention entitled: ‘Beyond Critique’ – LGBT Mental Health Issues.

It’s advertising an upcoming Core Issues Trust ‘Briefing Seminar’ in London in association with Christian Concern. The seminar is rather boldly called: Beyond Critique: The Misuse of Science by UK Professional Mental Health Bodies.

Media Statement from Core Issues Trust

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is a highly respected institution which is trusted by the nation, as are the UK’s largest counselling and psychotherapeutic professional bodies, the  British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and the UKCouncil for Psychotherapy (UKCP). The latter have issued professional practice statements and guidelines  forbidding their members to assist clients to reduce homosexual feelings, under any circumstances. All three organisations promote a biological causation of homosexuality,  sidelining significant research findings which suggest the profound influence of environmental experiences in childhood on an individuals’ sexuality.

A 2007 submission by the Royal College of Psychiatrists to the Church of England is a debatable document which may mislead the Church and the general public. It goes beyond science in identifying societal discrimination as the primary cause of the high incidence of various mental health issues experienced in the LGBT community. We call on the Church to reconsider this document, together with its likely consequences for counsellors, psychotherapists, and their clients who share traditional values, in the light of the best scientific research.

One consequence of the position taken by the professional bodies is that vulnerable individuals seeking to reduce unwanted same-sex attractions are now denied professional help to pursue their legitimate therapeutic goals. Although these organisations criticise attempts to “pray away the gay”, they are now making it more likely that amateur therapists and informal church-based ministries will be the only way open to people who want to reduce same-sex attractions, even if they are seeking to protect their marriage and family. Such therapeutic  approaches will not be supported by professional competencies, protection, regulation, supervision or professional indemnity insurance. This is analogous to promoting the practice of back street abortion, which society has striven so hard to eliminate.

I’ve made my position clear on ‘Reparative Therapy‘ or whatever you want to call it, and that is quite simply I know that no amount of ‘therapy’ would alter my hard-wired sexual proclivity, so why should it anybody else? However, if a person seeks treatment for an unwanted sexual attraction, I feel they should be free to do so, and psychotherapists should be free to offer this service privately.

Again, personally, I don’t think Christian organisations or Churches should be promoting ‘gay conversion therapy’; however, they should be free to do so. This said, I do have a problem with importing Canadian extremists to support this endeavour.

On this link you can view the seminar flyer in PDF and you will note the involvement of this guy:

Dr Joseph Berger

Consulting Psychiatrist in Toronto, Canada, doubly certified as a Specialist in Psychiatry by both the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. He has been an Examiner for the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology for 25 years in the Oral portion of the Board Certification Examination, and at one point in his career, taught and supervised as Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. He remains in practice.

Professor Berger has seen many clients with same-sex desires, fantasies and behaviours, and has successfully treated a number of such people who have become heterosexual, have married, and have had children, in fulfilling relationships. He has published in this area of work. Dr Berger has served as a scientific advisor to the National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality (NARTH). He has been a past President of the Ontario District Branch of the American Psychiatric Association, and was a representative to the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association for 8 years for the Ontario District Branch. He is author of the book “The Independent Medical Examination in Psychiatry” Butterworth Lexis Nexis 2002.

I had a an urge to find out more about this chap and it turns out that in 2006 NARTH went into a tailspin after they published Dr Berger’s article within which he advocated:

“I suggest, indeed, letting children who wish go to school in clothes of the opposite sex – but not counseling other children to not tease them or hurt their feelings…On the contrary, don’t interfere, and let the other children ridicule the child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world. Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary…It is a mistake for various interfering, ignorant, and biased busybodies to try to “counsel” the other children into accepting the abnormal. It is very healthy to be able to draw the line between what is healthy and what is sick.

So Dr Berger advocates the mechanism of bullying by a child’s peers for the purpose of behaviour modification. I’m not alone in finding these comments morally abhorrent.

The irony of inviting this man to take a key role in an seminar that seeks to address “the high incidence of various mental health issues experienced in the LGBT community” is bloody palpable. In fact, this seminar shouldn’t be called: ‘Beyond Critique’ but ‘Beyond Irony’.

And you know what, the truth is, I only checked this guy out on a curious whim.

The ever thickening alliance between the UK Christian Right and their extremist overseas counterparts is troubling. And if you need evidence of this I suggest you follow Richard Bartholomew who charts this in forensic detail.

A few good links

Monday, January 21st, 2013

A few links I found interesting for one reason or another:

Get Religion – Anti-gay marriage protests prompt ire of the BBC

The Mental Elf – Clinicians should consider referring depressed patients to Internet Support Groups, according to new RCT

iMonk – “Getting Better”

Opinionated Vicar - The National Lottery: pet parasite of the nation

Oxford Human Rights Hub – R (Hodkin): A Signal to Rethink Religious Worship

Society for Christian Psychology – Redemption and Restoration

Dr Robert Cargill – Is the Internet bringing about the end of organized religion?

PsychCentral – Lance Armstrong: Narcissist or “Optimist”?

Believer’s Brain – 4 Things Not To Say to a Depressed Christian

Normblog – Telling stories to win an argument

Patheos: Science and Religion – Do you believe in magic? Seriously.

The Emotionally Sensitive Person – Sunsets and Math Problems: Appreciating the Difference

Know Thyself: Should everyone be in therapy?

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

The answer to the question “Should everyone be in therapy” is answered with a resounding ‘yes’ in an article on QIdeas.

The authors base the answer on the premise of ‘knowing thyself‘ and the biblical concept of ‘self-examination’:

For centuries, self-examination was crucial for spiritual transformation. But, as David Benner convincingly argues in his Care of Souls, a post-Enlightenment church became mired in intellectual debates, losing its focus on soul care and spiritual direction. It was during this time the church abdicated its transformative role, trusting psychologists with the care once entrusted to priests, pastors and spiritual directors. And for the past 100 years, while a debate has raged on about the proper relationship between secular psychology and the church, it’s clear the original motive—know thyself— stands behind it all and remains crucial for the church’s mission. For the person best able to love God and neighbor is the person who knows the motives of her heart and is freed to live self-sacrificially.

The authors argue that as knowing thyself and knowing God are intimately connected, therapy should be curam animarum—the care of souls. They lament the ‘quick fix’ behavioral solution-based processes of modern therapy, but then posit this surprising twist:

But at the same time, I’m not convinced Christian therapists do this as well as secular therapists at times. Let me explain. Many settle for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” a quick fix approach which stands in stark contrast to the “costly grace” of searching and knowing ourselves, through exploring our stories and examining our motives. This kind of care is, indeed, much more rare. Christian counseling which is reduced to mere Bible memorization, or repentance or a behavioral regimen misses the point. It is all law, and no grace—particularly costly grace. It is all behavior with no real, deep examination of one’s self. And so we often find among secular therapists the kind of “depth psychology” which takes seriously how deep the rabbit hole of human brokenness and sin go.

The authors conclude that we should all engage in counselling and judging by the link they give; specifically, Christian Counselling.

Now it must be borne in mind that QIdeas is based in the US and interestingly over on the Guardian today, Mark Vernon, writing in response to the ‘Spiritual but not religious mental illness study‘ comments:

This raises another question, though. Do religious organisations in the UK today take enough notice of the insights of psychology and, conversely, do schools of therapy treat spirituality seriously? As the Cambridge psychologist and priest Fraser Watts explored in a recent talk, American therapists, for example, seem to be far happier talking about their clients’ spiritual concerns than their British counterparts.

This is a vital question and one I explored via the book Spirituality and Psychiatry which was kindly sent to me by the Royal College of Psychiatrists:

Here are the opening words from the Foreward:

During my presidency I became more and more convinced of the importance of promoting mental health and well being, alongside the treatment of mental illness. But I see mental health as the responsibility of everyone, not just health and mental health professionals. The social care, criminal justice and education sectors and faith-0based organisations should all be involved in asserting the centrality of mental health in society, in contributing to the prevention of mental illness and in supporting individuals with mental disorders.

Sheila Hollins – Former President, Royal College of Psychiatrists

This to me is the crux, namely, the church must be at the forefront of supporting those with mental health issues, in partnership with other professionals.

Historically, much of the psychiatric care was provided within a religious context. There are shrines noted for their miraculous healing of folk with mental illness, the most famous of which is the shrine of St Dymphna, the Patron Saint of mental and nervous disorders. Priory’s also cared for the mentall ill.

The modern era has seen the development of psychiatry as a distinct discipline, which has sadly been characterised by an exclusion of spirituality and religiosity within mental healthcare.

The souring of relations between religion and psychiatry has been severe. Freud asserted that belief in God was delusional and that all religion was mass neurosis. Reductionism came to dominate in the mid 20th Century and consequently humans viewed as nothing more than cerebral, with behaviour as Pavlovian / Skinnerian conditioning.

There has been almost no teaching on spirituality in the context of mental heath in UK medical schools, or at post-graduate level in the training of psychiatrists, consequently, students and practitioners have had little or no training in how to enquire about an individual’s spirituality or religious faith. The word ‘religion’ has not featured in the indices of most psychiatric textbooks.

Christians have viewed psychiatry as in conflict with traditional religious values and many have associated psychiatry / psychology with atheism and antagonistic to religion in general, and perhaps with good reason, given the above.

However, encouraging attitude changes are taking place within psychiatry, concerning the importance of spirituality as a dimension of mental healthcare. This has been prompted in part by ‘service users’ asserting that spirituality is a vital dimension of their experiences that they wish to be able to discuss freely without being labelled in pathological terms. Surveys have indicated that up to half of patients turn to their religious and spiritual beliefs to help them get through a crisis, but they do not feel comfortable talking about such things with a psychiatrist.

Research in the area of mental illness and religious belief developed during the 1990′s from almost nothing to an accepted area of inquiry with research funding. Religion has been found to provide a protective factor from – and in – mental illness. Religion can also have negative effects, however, in general the beneficial effects considerably outweigh the adverse.

In 1991, the Patron of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Prince of Wales, urged an approach to mental healthcare that encompassed body, mind and spirit, and in 1997 the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed the annual meting.

The notion of linking spirituality with psychiatry developed largely in the 21st century and was preceded In 1999 with the formation of  the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest group (SIG).  The SIG currently has a membership of some 1300 psychiatrists out of a College membership of 13000.

The Spirituality and Psychiatry book was originally conceived by the SIG and they have produced a ‘milestone’ leaflet entitled: Spirituality and Mental Health.

This is what the SIG say about themselves:

The Special Interest Group was founded in 1999 to provide a forum for psychiatrists to explore the influence of the major religions, which shape the cultural values and aspirations of psychiatrist and patient alike. The spiritual aspirations of persons not identifying with any one particular faith are held to be of no less importance, as well as the viewpoint of those who hold that spirituality is independent of religion. The meetings are designed to enable colleagues to investigate and share without fear of censure the relevance of spirituality to clinical practice. The Special Interest Group aims to contribute a framework of ideas of general interest to the College, stimulating discussion and promoting an integrative approach to mental healthcare. For patients, there is the need to help the service user feel supported in being able to bring spiritual concerns to the fore.

In contrast with the general population, only a minority of psychiatrists in Britain hold religious beliefs: 73% of psychiatrists reported no religious affiliation compared with 38% of their patients. Only 39% of female and 19% of male psychiatrists believe in God. However, 92% of psychiatrists in Britain believe that religion and mental illness are connected and that religious issues should be addressed in treatment; 42% considered that religiousness could lead to mental illness.

There is a need to overcome common prejudices within psychiatry such as ‘religion is usually harmful for patients’ and ‘religion is for the weak, vacillating and dependent’.

Overall, spirituality is increasingly being included as a component of psychiatric treatment, furthermore, a variety of faith-based organisations are providing care for folks with mental health problems.

The first chapter of the Spirituality and Psychiatry concludes with this:

Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals need to be bilingual, ‘fluent in….the language of psychiatry and psychology….and the language of spirituality that focuses on issues of meaning, hope, value, connectedness and transcendence’. It is probably fair to say that we have, for too long, neglected one of these languages to our own detriment and the detriment of our patients. That there is now renewed interest in learning the language of spirituality is very encouraging, but like all languages this one needs practice. Just as the language of psychiatry needs to be employed at every stage of assessment, diagnosis and treatment, as well as in all good research and training in mental healthcare, so the language of spirituality needs to permeate our relationships with our patients, colleagues and our whole understanding of the field of psychiatry.

I would advocate as forcefully, that Christians need to ‘learn the language’ of psychology and psychiatry in order that our churches may partner with mental healthcare providers. Faith-based organisations need to be part of the interdisciplinary and interprofessional team providing care to the vulnerable members of our community suffering from mental illness.

A few good links

Monday, January 7th, 2013

A few links I found interesting for one reason or another:

Digital mental Health - Pros and perils of social media in a mental health inpatient setting

Heresy Corner - Obesity and Sin

Cranmer - Homosexuality is an issue blown out of all proportion

Connexions – Mind your language

The Neurcritic - Spirit Possession as a Trauma-Related Disorder in Uganda

Theology Matters - Gnosticism and Modernity

Epiphenom – That was the year that was 2012

 

Quote of the Day

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

My fledgling understanding of quantum mechanics helped me with some theological puzzles that I had found confusing. For example, how can we have free will if an all-powerful God has control of every detail of our lives? When I read the Bible sometimes it seemed that God was in control, and sometimes it seemed that people were in control.  It was helpful to discover that, in the physical world, things that appeared contradictory on the surface (say an electron behaving like a wave and a particle) could be understood by a deeper and much more elegant theory like quantum mechanics. This led me to suspect that when I encountered what seemed to be profound logical or theological mysteries, a radically different way of interpreting the problem could make the whole thing come together in a very powerful way. Just as C.S. Lewis wrote about a ‘deeper magic’ in his Narnia series, there could perhaps also be a ‘deeper logic.’

SOURCE

I believe that Spurgeon once referred to free-will and predestination as two parallel lines that meet at the throne, which stuck with me for some reason.

Are folk that are spiritual but do not practice religion more prone to mental illness?

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Two articles appeared yesterday in the media claiming those who are ‘spiritual’ but not practicing organised religion were more prone to mental health problems, than those practicing religion and those neither religious nor spiritual.

Daily Mail:

Being spiritual may give life deeper meaning, but it can also make you more susceptible to mental illness, new research suggests.

A study found that people professing to be spiritual, but not conventionally religious, were more likely to suffer from a host of mental challenges.

They suffered problems including abnormal eating conditions, drug abuse, anxiety disorder, phobias and neurosis.

They were also more likely than others to be taking medication for mental health problems.

Telegraph:

They are more likely to suffer from a range of mental health problems than either the conventionally religious or those who are agnostic or atheists, found researchers at University College London.

They are more disposed towards anxiety disorders, phobias and neuroses, have eating disorders and drug problems.

In addition, they are more likely than others to be taking medication for mental health problems.

Professor Michael King, from University College London, and his fellow researchers wrote in the British Journal of Psychiatry: “Our main finding is that people who had a spiritual understanding of life had worse mental health than those with an understanding that was neither religious nor spiritual.”

Before I move on I want to note that both articles concluded with this comment from the researchers:

The nature of this association needs greater examination in qualitative and in prospective quantitative research.

The study was published in The British Journal of Psychiatry:

Abstract:

Background

Religious participation or belief may predict better mental health but most research is American and measures of spirituality are often conflated with well-being.

Aims

To examine associations between a spiritual or religious understanding of life and psychiatric symptoms and diagnoses.

Method

We analysed data collected from interviews with 7403 people who participated in the third National Psychiatric Morbidity Study in England.

Results

Of the participants 35% had a religious understanding of life, 19% were spiritual but not religious and 46% were neither religious nor spiritual. Religious people were similar to those who were neither religious nor spiritual with regard to the prevalence of mental disorders, except that the former were less likely to have ever used drugs (odds ratio (OR) = 0.73, 95% CI 0.60–0.88) or be a hazardous drinker (OR = 0.81, 95% CI 0.69–0.96). Spiritual people were more likely than those who were neither religious nor spiritual to have ever used (OR = 1.24, 95% CI 1.02–1.49) or be dependent on drugs (OR = 1.77, 95% CI 1.20–2.61), and to have abnormal eating attitudes (OR = 1.46, 95% CI 1.10–1.94), generalised anxiety disorder (OR = 1.50, 95% CI 1.09–2.06), any phobia (OR = 1.72, 95% CI 1.07–2.77) or any neurotic disorder (OR = 1.37, 95% CI 1.12–1.68). They were also more likely to be taking psychotropic medication (OR = 1.40, 95% CI 1.05–1.86).

Conclusions

People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder.

OK, the major problem with drawing any conclusion from this study, is the ‘chicken and egg’ question. Which came first, spirituality or mental illness?

Put simply, does being ‘spiritual’ without being religious cause mental problems? Or does having mental problems cause folk to search for spiritual understanding without wishing to practice religion?

The popular assumption will be that a spiritual outlook causes mental problems; however, it is equally valid to claim that those with existing mental health problems seek a spiritual understanding for comfort.

Another intrigue thrown up in this study relates to the mentally ill and the practice of religion.

Is it possible to infer that those not practicing religion have less social support, increasing vulnerability?

If this is the case, then the question must be asked as to why this group has a reluctance to be part of a religion.

Religion, was articulated as: “the actual practice of a faith, e.g. going to a temple, mosque, church or synagogue”.

Is it possible that the mentally ill feel their respective place of worship is uncomfortable for them?

If so, then searching questions must be asked.

UPDATE: The Spectator has a blog on this in which they rightly note the ‘Chicken and egg’ issue.

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