Dr. Josh Packard, Executive Director of the Springtide Research Institute sat down with CBN Faithwire and discussed some encouraging findings about the link between mental health and religion. The Institute focuses on 13-25 year-olds and Packard has spent many years researching the connections between faith and mental health. In sitting down with Faithwire, he insisted that studies have already determined that “religion is good for you” and, “Faith and spirituality are good for you. If you’re a person who believes in some kind of higher power and has a connection to that higher power, you’re generally flourishing more than your peers.” He went on to talk about the need to see more young people plugged into religious institutions and practices, saying, “Young people would be … better off if more of them had a connection to something bigger than themselves. But also, I think a lot of religious institutions and leaders would do well to take mental health into account, so that like faith and belief could be appropriately part of somebody’s overall approach to health.”

The benefits of religion have been confirmed in secular studies as well. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) conducted a study in 2016 and noted differences between the benefits of “religion” and “spirituality.” It defined religion as “an organized, community-based system of beliefs,” whereas it defined spirituality as “within the individual and what they personally believe.” One participant of the study noted, “The idea of religion and spirituality is like a rectangle versus a square. Within religion there is spirituality, but if you have spirituality, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have religion.” The study found that religion helped to reduce suicide rates, alcoholism, and drug use. Due to its communal nature, religion offers a sense of community, ritual, and teaching that increase a person’s ability to forgive and how to handle challenging situations. Spirituality focuses more on a sense of a higher power and helping someone understand their interpretation of the meaning of life. It offered benefits in mindfulness, acceptance, and unity with surroundings. The Mayo Clinic noted similar findings in its own research, including benefits to physical health, saying, “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.”

Packard did note the growing divide between young people and organized religion. Many from Gen Z express themselves as being spiritual but are leaving the church in droves. Packard offered some hopefulness, however, saying, “We see lots of desire from Gen Z to embark on these conversations and explorations of meaning and purpose and, ‘Why am I here on this Earth? So, the desire hasn’t gone away. The exploration hasn’t gone away.” Packard will be speaking more about the church and caring for mental health on November 14 at an event hosted by Uncommon Pursuit.

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