Religion and Mental Health.

In the South East of the UK, where I live, religion seems to be frequently perceived as an outdated and even in some cases a destructive construct. I think it still has it’s place in society though and I also believe that religion can be beneficial for our mental health.

Today I will be talking about the monotheistic religions of Islam and Christianity as those are the two religions I have most knowledge and understanding of. I will be discussing the history of psychiatric treatment in both religions historically and how they can help in the modern day. If this proves to be a popular discussion then I might just do some more posts on different religions too!

Historically Islam is actually the more forward thinking of the two religions both in terms of study and treatment of psychiatric issues. The first dedicated psychiatric ward in the world was founded in 705AD in Baghdad by Islamic physician, scholar and writer al-Razi. Treatments of those in the hospital would have included music and occupational therapy as well as talking therapy, concepts that would not be commonplace in western psychiatry until nearly 1000 years later.

In day to day psychological well-being a Muslim can call upon his Imam to help him/her through difficult times and in modern day there is an organisation called Nafsiyat who provide specialist counselling. They have facilities across the UK.The term Nafisyat, from my understanding, is actually the Arabic study of the Science of Self; a philosophy based on self understanding and spiritual healing. From my limited knowledge it is a cross between CBT and Psychoanalysis, again Nafisyat is leagues ahead of it’s time in terms of understanding psychological conditions.

I’m sure in the Christian world throughout the ages many people went to their local vicars or priests with issues that they were able to talk though. As with any religion the priest and place of worship are the hub of that community. However at a level higher than local parishes Christianity is still catching up from it’s past.

Christianity rose to prominence as the mighty empire of Rome collapsed in on itself and Europe fell into the dark ages. Science and philosophy in this period were replaced by religious fanaticism enforced by a church looking to maintain control over a divided Europe. At this time the prescribed sure for depression or mild psychological conditions would have been more prayer. Panic attacks and psychosis may have been seen as demonic possession or as a punishment from God for heresy.

The church did house and help the poor and ill to the best of it’s ability. The Bethlem Priory (later hospital) for instance was famous for housing the sick and mad from the 13th century on wards. It wasn’t really until the Renaissance period that people would actively try to treat psychiatric conditions however and that research was certainly not of interest to the church.

These days mental health issues are becoming more of a talking point within the Christian Church. These days the perception and reception of the mentally ill varies massively across the various denominations of Christianity and the regions that the church serves globally. Overall, however, the Church seems to be working towards means of helping those affected by mental health issues and their families and are working towards trying to help those in need of or in treatment. A quick Google search will soon show you that there are still cases of misunderstanding but I believe it to be moving in the right direction and fully support the church in their studies.

At a non-clinical level I believe that religion is still a positive attribute to our mental well-being.  As I mentioned earlier places of worship are a central hub for that community. Going their and getting involved will give you the opportunity to meet new people. This is important especially now as we live such isolated lives. Religion can also give us another means of accountability for our actions and ideas. It can be a motivation for us to get better. Finally, go and sit in a church on a quiet day. Sit and be mindful or sit and think about what you are doing. I live near a medieval church and the place has a quiet and therapeutic quality to it. I have no experience of Mosques I’m afraid but I find churches to be a great place to explore your thoughts and emotions, away from disruption and prying eyes.

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