Religious, Spiritual Support Benefits People Facing Chronic Illness

Photo: Praying hands 

Individuals who practice religion and spirituality report better physical and mental health than those who do not. To better understand this relationship and how spirituality or religion can be used for coping with significant health issues, University of Missouri (MU) researchers are examining what aspects of religion are most beneficial and for what populations.

Now, MU health psychology researchers have found that religious and spiritual support improves health outcomes for both men and women who face chronic health conditions. "Our findings reinforce the idea that religion or spirituality may help buffer the negative consequences of chronic health conditions," said Stephanie Reid-Arndt. "We know that there are many ways of coping with stressful life situations, such as a chronic illness; involvement in religious or spiritual activities can be an effective coping strategy."

Religious and spiritual support includes care from congregations, spiritual interventions, such as religious counseling and forgiveness practices, and assistance from pastors and hospital chaplains.

"Both genders benefit from social support – the ability to seek help from and rely on others – provided by fellow congregants and involvement in religious organisations," said Brick Johnstone.

"Encouragement to seek out religious and spiritual supports can assist individuals in coping with stress and physical symptoms related to health issues. Health care providers can urge patients to take advantage of these resources, which provide emotional care, financial assistance and opportunities for increased socialisation."

The study examined the role of gender in using spirituality or religiosity to cope with chronic health conditions and disabilities, including spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke and cancer. Using measures of religiousness or spirituality, general mental health and general health perception, the researchers found no differences between men and women in terms of self-reported levels of spiritual experiences, religious practices or congregational support. This finding contrasts with other studies that suggest women may be more spiritual or participate in religion more frequently than men.

"While women generally are more religious or spiritual than men, we found that both genders may increase their reliance on spiritual and religious resources as they face increased illness or disability," Johnstone said; Source: University of Missouri

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