Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Religiosity and mental health

Religiosity and mental health:
How does religiosity influence mental health?

Overview edit

“Religion is a fantasy structure from which a man must be set free if he is to grow to maturity”. - Sigmund Freud.

Alternatively, could it be that Freud was incorrect?

Could it be that strong religious involvement is helpful for one to reach subjective maturity?

Could it be that strong religious involvement is helpful for individual’s to live more effective motivational and emotional lives?

Numerous studies have substantiated the various benefits of religious involvement to mental health[factual?]. However, its prominence in mental health literature and education is minimal due to many researchers’ limited appreciation of the entity in itself (Marx & Spray, 1969). Many scholars condemn religion and all it surpasses and subsequently note the institutionalised illogicality that the entity represents (Marx & Spray, 1969). Persons with this viewpoint have the adamant belief that strong religious involvement is detrimental to both humanity as a whole and the individual’s psychological functioning and well-being[factual?]. Despite this, religion has cemented itself as an extremely powerful and influential entity on both an individual and societal level throughout the ages. Resultantly[Rewrite to improve clarity], researchers have begun to inquire into the subsequent mental health benefits that advanced religious involvement may engender and inspire.

It has been established that religious involvement indirectly contributes to individuals being increasingly physically healthy, having a longer life expectancy and having increased levels of subjective well-being (Mochon, Norton & Ariely, 2011). From a metaphysical point of view, religion exemplifies an overarching source of meaning, guidance, support, trust and constancy, which act as stabilisers in an uncertain and unreliable world (Jung, 1933). Religious involvement's holistic benefits go beyond offering guidance and support, to various behavioural psychology and mental health benefits such as reducing the frequency and magnitude of impulsive, aggressive and precarious behaviours (Jung, 1933). However, these explanation are simplistic and do not sufficiently answer the thought-provoking question:

“How does religiosity influence mental health?"

The problem edit

Religious involvement has the innate capacity to improve one’s overall psychological health and subjective well-being (Mochon, Norton, & Ariely, 2011). Hence, religiosity should be examined to the highest degree because of the potential health benefits that the entity may provide (Mochon, Norton & Ariely, 2011). To date, little research has provided an exhaustive, holistic overview of the effects of religiosity on mental health. In an attempt to eliminate this issue, this chapter will aim to inform the reader in regards to the more complex and multifarious positive effects that religion may have on mental health. Through examining the relevant psychological theories and research knowledge it will be substantiated that religion and spirituality can be effectively used to enable individuals to live more efficient motivational and emotional lives.

Definitions edit

Religiosity edit

A rudimentary definition of religiosity states that religiosity is the degree to which an individual engages in religious/spiritual beliefs and practices (Chamberlain & Zika, 1988).

Emotion edit

As a result of emotion’s multifaceted nature and exceptional complexity there has been perpetual disagreement over a universal definition for the field of psychology (Chaplin & Krewjec, 1979). However, one of the more prominent definitions is McDougall (p. 6, 1921) who defined emotion as “The emotional excitation of specific quality that is the affective aspect of the operation of any one of the principal instincts may be called a primary emotion."

Motivation edit
Figure 1. Summary: A definition of mental health by WHO

Mitchell (1982) defined motivation as the individual, deliberate and goal-directed process that effectively informs actions and behaviors.

Mental Health & Health edit

The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community” (WHO.Int, 2014, para. 1).

Religion as a coping mechanism edit

Figure 3. Religion as a coping mechanism

“It is religion’s ability to provide meaning and hope for the future, even in the face of current life adversity, that may have such powerful effects for well-being.” - (Musick, 2000, p. 269).

When we are faced with stressful or aversive situations individuals instinctively attempt to eliminate or understand the stress they are feeling through various coping mechanisms. Essentially, the function of emotion in coping is to provide individuals with rapid, instinctive and historically effective response’s to the principal tasks and disputes in our everyday lives (Reeve, 2008). Research has now began to examine religious healing as a new coping mechanism. The basis for this coping strategy is centred upon the numerous studies that confirm that there is a significant positive relationship between religiosity and subjective well-being (Koenig, George & Siegler, 1988).

One of the fundamental ways in which religion has a positive impact on subjective psychological well-being is through its effectiveness as a function for dealing with stress (Kelly, 2004). More specifically, faith and trust in God are noted as operative elements of the religious coping mechanism that effectively increase holistic well-being (Koennig, George & Siegler, 1988). Ultimately, aversive events that would previously seem chaotic and uncontrollable may be viewed as manageable because of the inherent rationale and reasoning that religion adequately provides (Dull & Skokan, 1995).

In regards to religious coping mechanisms psychological underpinnings, its classification is vague. Religious coping is linked to both problem and emotion-focused coping; however, it directly fits neither category (Tamres, Janick & Helgeson, 2002). Pargament (1997) suggested that the creation of a distinct religious coping model might help researchers and those practicing this form of coping alike to better understand the intrinsic relationship between religiosity and subjective psychological well-being.

As the link between religiosity and mental health is further established, research has begun to examine how religious coping is assessed. Pargament developed a theory of religious coping which is a 14-item scale that relates to major life traumas. The items were drawn from previously existing research regarding religious coping scales and clinical experience (Pargament, Feuille & Burdzy, 2011). The scale is multi-modal[explain?][Provide more detail] in nature as it examines the various coping mechanisms that individuals employ specifically or relationally through their thoughts, attitudes, behaviours and emotions (Pargament, Feuille & Burdzy, 2011). Additionally, the RCOPE effectively compensates for effects of global religious variations which evidently heightens the scales overall validity (Pargament, Feuille & Burdzy, 2011). It is a highly credible model that has effectively filled the gap for a much-needed theory on religious coping. The RCOPE and various other religiosity scales enable both researcher's and individual's alike to further understand the imperative health benefits that religion and a high level of religiosity may provide.

As previously stated, religious coping mechanisms have the undeniable ability to relieve stress, provide clarity, and enable individuals to navigate their lives on a daily basis[factual?]. This ultimately contributes to a heightened level of effective emotional living as these elements are intrinsically linked to holistic well-being[factual?]. Through religious coping mechanisms individuals utilise their innate religiosity to subsequently improve their mental health and overall psychological functioning[factual?]. Religious coping mechanisms worth as an area of study is substantiated by these indubitable benefits.

Case Study: The Holocaust edit

A prominent example of religious coping is centered upon Jewish individual’s reactions to the happenings of the Holocaust. At this juncture in time, the great majority of individuals turned to prayer and worship instead of rebuttal through physical conduct (Murphy, 2011). One of the more renowned religious coping strategies that were employed was centered upon the adoption of the 13 principles of faith which were set down by Maimonides (Murphy, 2011). One of these principles, Ani Ma’amin, emphasised the strong necessity for faith in a person’s final moments which was employed as an effective coping strategy in terms of dealing with an acceptance of death (Murphy, 2011). The Holocaust is a prevalent example of the ways in which the Jewish community sought clarity and guidance through advanced religious involvement and employing religion as a coping mechanism (Paleolibrarian, 2011).It enables us to better understand the relationship between coping mechanisms and religiosity.

Religiosity and depression edit

  • Statistics show that EVERYONE, at some point in their life, will be affected by depression - whether this is personally, or through someone else may vary
  • An astounding 80% of individuals who are depressed are currently not receiving any treatment
  • Antidepressants only work for approximately 35-45% of the total depressed population

(, 2014).

Figure 4. Depression: Can it be navigated via religious involvement?

Given these overwhelming statistics, every variable that may assist in the prevention or treatment of depression should be explicitly analysed. Despite the conclusions of a significant relationship between religiosity and depression[factual?], religiosity has gained little respect in the medical field as a preventative method or method of treatment. However, several studies have examined the relationship between religiosity and depression in an attempt to further understand the intrinsic relationship between religiosity and mental health[factual?].

Numerous studies have concurrently validated that religiosity has a positive, independent effect on mental health (Idler, 1995). Furthermore, the relationship is further established by Idler’s (1995) study which stipulated that individuals with high levels of religious involvement who experience a traumatic event are likely to experience a decreased level of depression as opposed to those who exact a low level of religiosity. Eliassen, Taylor & Lloyd (2005) successfully concluded that religions distinctive contribution to subjective well-being may potentially be a product of the social integration that religion encompasses. Subsequently, increased psychological well-being and emotional functioning may be achieved through the social aspect of religion (Eliassen, Taylor & Lloyd, 2005). Furthermore, from a psychological point of view, sadness and distress have the ability to enable the union of social groups through their function as a motivator (Averill, 1968). The strong sadness and distress emotions that people experience when separated from important family, friends or environments act as a motivation for individuals to stay in touch with their significant family, friends and environments as an attempt to avoid these negative, aversive emotions (Averill, 1979). As previously stated, the health benefits of religiosity on depression are directly related to social cohesion and social integration benefits that increased religious involvement has the ability to provide (Eliassen, Taylor & Lloyd, 2005). These references highlight the multi-faceted relationship between religiosity and depression and the significant impact that social integration provides.

The effect of religiosity on depression varies and it can be viewed as both a positive and negative variable that either contributes to or decreases the magnitude and prevalence of depression (McCullough & Larson, 1999). However, it should be noted that the strong, aversive emotions that are associated with depression are beneficial as they effectively direct both attention and behavior to where it is utmost needed (Reeve, 2008) [grammar?] Religiosity’s overall effect on mental health has several discrepancies. However, the current, prevailing research in the field helps mental health practitioners establish the overarching effects that religion may have. Ultimately, research in this field heightens mental health practitioner’s knowledge[factual?], which has the ability to indirectly influence and enhance individual’s emotional and motivational lives. Additionally, this knowledge may help the individual understand the potential effect that their religious practices are enacting[how?][for example?].

Case Study: Judaism edit

Recent research has emphasised the notable differences between various religious affiliations and their subsequent prevalence of depressive disorders. Studies dating back to the 1880’s have noted the heightened risk of depressive disorders among members of the Jewish faith (McCullogh & Larson, 1999). Studies of a high quality that were conducted among both clinical populations and community samples adequately substantiated that the risk for major depressive disorders was twofold for members of the Jewish faith in comparison to those members of other religious denominations (Bart, 1968).

There is an extensive range of explanations that exist in regards to why individuals of the Jewish faith experience higher levels of depression. A few of the more credible explanations include distinctive genetic explanations, fundamental lifestyle dissimilarities and the effects of noteworthy differences in spiritual and religious practices (McCullogh & Larson, 1999). However, one of the principle explanations is centred upon the concept of religious marginalisation and its subsequent effect on mental health and psychological functioning (McCullough & Larson, 1999). Religious marginalisation is concerned with being religiously dissimilar from ones immediate cultural and social environment (McCullough & Larson, 1999). It has been suggested that religiously different social conditions epitomize depression. This concept was substantiated by Rosenberg’s (1962) study which established that Jewish children who were raised in neighbourhoods that were religiously dissimilar to them experienced elevated levels of depression in comparison to Jewish children who were raised in neighbourhoods of the same or a similar religious affiliation. While a causal explanation was not established it was hypothesised that this finding may be due to a lack of social support and moral dissimilarities within a community (Rosenberg, 1962). A lack of social support and moral dissimilarities may result in an individual feeling isolated which could easily lead to depressive tendencies. This example demonstrates how one’s religion may indirectly diminish ones psychological and emotional wellbeing.

Religiosity and joy edit

Joy may be viewed as the emotional by-product that is generated when things are going well; hence, its principal sources are often the opposite of the causes of sadness (Reeve, 2008). Psychology theory states that joy has two primary functions (Reeve, 2008). Firstly, joy has the substantial ability to accelerate our desire for social interaction and social integration through facilitating happiness through both communication and making friends (Haviland & Lelwica, 1987). Additionally, joy has a calming function that engenders positive emotions and attempts to overpower the prevalent negative emotions of sadness, distress and disappointment (Reeve, 2008). Through this, joy has the capacity to both preserve and enhance individual psychological well-being and mental health (Reeve, 2008). Dedication to one’s religious beliefs and practices has commonly been associated with enhanced joy, happiness, morale, and other such indicators of superior life satisfaction and psychological well-being (Koenig, George & Siegler, 1998). This statement is validated by Koenig, George and Sieglers (1998) study which concluded that 80% of the 100 studies examined reported a generous positive associated between joy, happiness and religious involvement. Furthermore, the current literature in this field of study adamantly suggests that individuals may achieve superior feelings of optimism, hopefulness and joy through the consistent attendance of religious services (Ellison & Levin, 1998). These positive emotions of optimism, hopefulness and joy are noted as strong predictors of psychological well-being (Fredrickson, 2002). Hence, through religion having the capacity to inspire joy, it subsequently has the ability to increase subjective well-being (Fredrickson, 2002). Religion engenders the two principal functions of religion, social integration and a soothing function, and through these functions the entity has the ability to heighten individual subjective well-being and increase one’s mental health.

Case study: Buddhism and joy edit

Figure 5. The Dalai Lama: The leader of the Buddhist faith

The Buddhist religion is centred upon the attainment of enlightenment. However, one of the principal steps that must be achieved before reaching enlightenment is Mudita. Mudita refers to an individual exemplifying sympathetic of [Rewrite to improve clarity] unselfish joy in regards to the prosperity of others (O’Brien, 2014). Essentially, it is opposite to the concept of jealousy (O’Brien, 2014). The joy that an individual experiences for others in turn enables them to feel at peace and to reach an increasingly wholesome state (O’Brien, 2014). Buddhists believe that mudita generates aliveness, goodness and joy within the individual (O’Brien, 2014). Buddhism views joy as being a necessary step towards happiness and well-being, and hence, its attainment contributes to the fulfilment of enlightenment (Ekman et al., 2005). This is a principle example of how joy is a prevalent product of religious involvement and how it ultimately contributes to increased subjective well-being.

Prayer and mental health edit

Figure 6. Prayer is a universal avenue for gaining guidance and support

Individuals frequently turn to the universal religious practice that is prayer in an attempt to find peace and guidance throughout their everyday lives (Dossey, 1996). The rudimentary definition of prayer states that prayer is both the privilege and responsibility to communicate with one’s religious leader regarding requests, confessions, thanksgiving and guidance (Dossey, 1996). As of late, several studies have began to focus on the implicit benefits of prayer on overall psychological well being[factual?].

Prayer and psychological well-being edit

Several studies have concluded that there is a significant relationship between prayer, religious involvement and psychological well-being (Maltby, Lewis & Day, 1999). More specifically, Maltby, Lewis and Day (1999) substantiated that consistent personal prayer has the ability to decrease feelings of depression and anxiety and subsequently improve one’s overall psychological well-being. The study additionally concluded that frequency of prayer is a higher predictor of enhanced psychological well-being in comparison to religious affiliation (Maltby, Lewis & Day, 1999). Additionally, the study by Maltby, Lewis and Day (1999) concluded that more individual and personal acts of religiosity, such as prayer, have the significant ability to increase psychological well-being. Alternatively, more extrinsic and public-based processes of religiosity, such as church attendance, are commonly associated with decreased levels of holistic psychological well-being (Maltby, Lewis & Day, 1999). This study highlights the intrinsic relationship between prayer and psychological well-being and substantiates that one may live a more emotional and motivational life through practicing prayer on a regular basis. Numerous researchers have attempted to explain these findings from either a psychological, physiological or supernatural viewpoint (Robinson et al, 2006). Three principal explanations were proposed by Robinson, Thiel, Backus and Meyer (2006) and these entailed a placebo effect, focus and attitude adjustment and the activation of internal healing processes[explain?][Provide more detail].

Practical implications edit

There are several future practical implications that may be achieved through studying the intrinsic relationship between religiosity and mental health.

  • After becoming aware of the relationship between religiosity and mental health psychologists and psychiatrists may find it beneficial to discuss ones religious history and viewpoint upon determining a diagnosis or treatment
  • Spiritual/religious healing may also be applied and encouraged in a clinical setting
  • Individuals may respect and understand the need for religion at a higher level and understand its remarkable benefits for leading more fulfilling motivational and emotional lives
  • Individuals may begin to question their own level of religiosity and whether or not this is beneficial/detrimental to their own personal subjective well being.

Case study: Theistic psychotherapy edit

The service being delivered by various multiple health practitioners is being enhanced by including patient’s religious beliefs in psychotherapy (Bergin, 1980){[rewreite}}. This has led to the development of a practice called theistic psychotherapy. This practice ultimately entails mental health practitioners attempting to eliminate conflict through acknowledging their patients’ and their own individual religious beliefs (Richards & Bergin, 1997). This hence enables practitioners to employ several varying religious concepts and practices such as prayer and forgiveness.

Conclusion edit

Various studies have examined and noted the numerous benefits of religious involvement on mental health. Traditionally, minimal research has been conducted in this field, however, as of late researchers and mental health practitioners alike have begun to inquire into the subsequent mental health benefits that advanced religious involvement may engender and inspire. Through examining the various components of this book chapter such as the rudimentary definitions, intrinsic religiosity, religious coping mechanisms, religiosity and depression, joy and prayer, one may reach the apparent conclusion that religiosity has the ability to enhance psychological well-being and heighten one’s emotional and motivational lives.

Below is a table that summarises the principal points of this book chapter and a quiz that may be used to reinforce learning.

Table X.
Table depicting the principal points

Mechanism Effect on mental health
Religious coping mechanisms Such mechanisms have the ability to relieve stress, provide clarity and enable individuals to navigate their lives on a daily basis. This ultimately contributes to a heightened level of effective emotional living as these elements are intrinsically linked to psychological well-being (Kelly, 2004).
Joy Religion has the capacity to inspire joy through social cohesion, which subsequently increases psychological well-being (Fredrickson, 2002).
Prayer Personal acts of religiosity, such as prayer, have the ability to increase psychological well-being through the placebo effect, focus and attitude adjustment and the activation of healing processes (Robinson, Thiel, Backus and Meyer, 2006)

Quiz edit

1 If an individual realise's their own potential, can work productively and efficiently, is able to cope with the pressures in life and has an innate contribution to their community, they may be considered as?

Fit mentally
Mentally unhealthy
Mentally stable
Mentally healthy

2 Religious coping mechanisms have a positive impact on one’s subjective wellbeing through?

Helping individuals deal with stress
Creating stress
Encouraging individuals to attend church
Encouraging individuals to beg for forgiveness

3 Religiosity has gained little respect in the medical field as a preventative method or method of treatment. Is this statement true or false ?


4 Joy has two primary functions that may be achieved through religiosity. These are?

Social integration and smiling
Calming function and compassion
Smiling and compassion
Social integration and calming function

See also edit

References edit

Averill, J. R. (1968). Grief: Its nature and significance. Psychological Bulletin, 70, 721–748.

Averill, J. R. (1979). The functions of grief. In C. Izard (Ed.), Emotions in personality and psy-chopathology. New York: Plenum Press.

Bart, P. (1968). Depression in middle-aged women: Some sociocultural factors. University of California: Los Angeles

Bergin, A. E. (1980). Psychotherapy and religious values. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 48(1), pp. 95.97.

Chamberlain, K. & Zika, S. (1988). Religiosity, life meaning and wellbeing: Some relationships in a sample of women. Journal for the scientific study of religion, pp. 411-420.

Chaplin, J. P., & Krawiec, T. S. (1979). Systems and theories of psychology (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston

Dossey, L. Prayer is good medicine: How to reap the healing benefits of prayer. Harper: San Francisco, 1996.

Ekman, P., Davidson, R., Ricard, M., and Wallace, B. (2005). Buddhist and psychological perspectives on emotions and well-being. Current directions in psychological science, 14(2), pp. 59-60.

Eliassen, A., Taylor, J. & Lloyd, D. (2005). Subjective religiosity and depression in the transition to adulthood. Journal for the scientific study of religion, 44(2), pp. 189.

Ellison, C. G., & Levin, J. S. (1998). The religion-health connection: evidence theory and future directions. Health education and behaviour, 25, pp. 704.

Fredrickson, B. (2002). How does religion benefit health and well-being? Are positive emotions active ingredients? Psychological Inquiry, p. 209-211.

Freud, S. (1929). A religious experience. The international journal of psychoanalysis, 10, pp. 1.

Dull, V. T. & Skokan, L. A. (1995). A cognitive model of religion’s influence on health. Journal of social issues, 51(2), 49-64.

Haviland, J. J., & Lelwica, M. (1987). The induced affect response: Ten-week old infants’ responses to three emotion expressions. Developmental Psychology, 23, pp. 997

Idler, E. L. (1995). Religion, health, and nonphysical senses of self. Social forces, 74, 683-685.

Jung, C. 1933. Modern man in search of a soul. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Kelly, J. (2004). Spirituality as a coping mechanism. Dimensions of critical care nursing, 23(4), pp. 162-164.

Koenig, H. G., George, L. K. & Siegler, L. (1988). The use of religion and other emotion-regulating coping strategies among older adults. The Gerontologist, 28, pp. 303-310, 397.

McCullough, M. & Larson, D. (1999). Religion and depression: a review of the literature. Twin research, 2(02, pp. 127.

McDougall, W. (1921) An introduction to social-psychology. Boston: Luce

Mitchell, T. (1982). Motivation: New directions for theory, research and practice. Academy of management review, 7(1), pp. 80-88.

Mochon, D., Norton, M. & Ariely, D. (2011). Who benefits from religion? Social indicators research, 101(1), p. 1.

Murphy, A. (2011). The Blackwell companion to religion and violence. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Musick, M. A. 2000. Theodicy and life satisfaction among black and white Americans. Sociology of Religion 61(3):267–87.

O’Brien, B. (2014). Mudita – the Buddhist practice of sympathetic joy. [online] About Buddhism. Available at: [Accessed 20 Oct. 2014]

Pargament, K. I. (1997). The psychology of religion and coping: theory, research and practice. London: Guilford Press

Pargament, K., Feuille, M. & Burdzy, D. (2011). The brief RCOPE: Current psychometric status of a short measure of religious coping. Religions, 2(1), pp. 51-55.

Reeve, J. M. (2008). Understanding motivation and emotion. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Richards, P. S., & Bergin, A. (1997). A spiritual strategy for counselling and psychotherapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Rosenberg, M. (1962). The dissonant religious context and emotional disturbance. Am J Sociology, 68, pp. 1-4

Tamres, L. K., Janicki, D., & Helgeson, V. S. (2002). Sex differences in coping behavior: A meta-analyticreview and an examination of relative coping. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6, pp. 2 (2014). Depression fact sheet: Depression statistics and depression causes. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Oct. 2014]. (2014). The psychology of religion | RE:ONLINE [online]. Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2014].

Richards, P. S., & Bergin, A. (1997). A spiritual strategy for counselling and psychotherapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Rosenberg, M. (1962). The dissonant religious context and emotional disturbance. Am J Sociology, 68, pp. 1-4

Tamres, L. K., Janicki, D., & Helgeson, V. S. (2002). Sex differences in coping behavior: A meta-analyticreview and an examination of relative coping. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6, pp. 2 (2014). Depression fact sheet: Depression statistics and depression causes. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Oct. 2014].

External links edit

For more information on various religions:

For more information on depression: