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This week, many people around the world are observing a variety of religious holidays. Today, Christians observe Good Friday and this weekend will celebrate Easter. For the Jewish community, this past Monday marked the beginning of Passover. This month also marks the observance Laylat al-Mi’raj, an important holy day for Muslims.
While an increasing number of young adults in the United States don’t identify with any religion, especially here in New England, religion and spirituality can still play a very positive role in people’s lives, including those in recovery from mental health and substance abuse issues.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Research has shown that for some, religion and individual spirituality can directly improve our physical and mental health.” Spirituality and faith communities can take many forms and provide a variety of benefits. Some positive aspects of religion and spirituality which NAMI underscores include:
Meditation: whether it’s praying, studying, or just thoughtfully reflecting, all of these activities can shift your focus off of your problems/symptoms and onto something more positive.
Togetherness: By going to the church/synagogue/mosque/temple, etc. you come into contact with other people and become part of a community. Just make sure that community is accepting of you and your identity so that the experience is constructive and not destructive.
A Sense of Understanding: Finding the right spiritual community or religion can be like finding the right partner or friend. Faith serves as the foundation for many people’s recovery.
Helping Others: If blessings don’t entice you, consider instead the sense of well being and satisfaction that is derived from altruistic and charitable activity – be kind at least for your own sake, if not for someone else’s!
While I am in many ways very secular, my Faith and religious tradition also play a vital role in not only my identity, but in my mental and spiritual life. My Faith has helped me through some tough times, including emotional turmoil. Regardless of our individual religious beliefs, I think it is important that as mental health advocates we make people aware of what can be a very powerful resource in their recovery. That being said, it is also essential that we work to educate faith communities about the science of the human brain/nervous system, human thought, emotion, and behavior. “Faith” and “Reason” need not be contradictory – it’s our challenge to educate the community on how the two can complement each other to increase life satisfaction and well being for people living with mental illness.
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