Addressing Mental Health In A Religious Society

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It is no secret that religion and mental health have often been at odds with each other. This is especially apparent when mental health discussions have become more common and less taboo. More people every day are seeking help with their mental state and are understanding how depression, anxiety and other mental ailments are complex problems. Although most people have accepted the role therapy and medications can play in improving mental health, many religious individuals still attribute it to a lack of faith or a disconnect from God. A recent webinar by The Associated Press titled “Does faith have a place in mental health?” addressed the divide between the two seemingly taboo topics. The panel was hosted by Natasha Mikles, an assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies at Texas State University. Many prominent and relevant people were part of the panel such as Thema Bryant, president-elect of the American Psychological Association; David Morris, a psychologist and author; and Rabbi Seth Winberg, executive director and senior chaplain at Brandeis Hillel.

The Gap

The main reason for conflict between the two schools is that religion often focuses on the things that cannot be directly observed, while psychology is science often focused on facts. According to the panelist, this is the main cause of the disconnect between two communities: those in the mental health field versus those in faith groups. This is why mental health providers in the west create therapeutic models void of religious identity. These models aren’t effective for people that self-identify as a person of faith. “We’re using two different languages,” said one of the panelists. Ideally, tools from both fields should be implemented together as a custom mix for each individual.

Help or Harm 

Religion can be incredibly influential on our mental health. Therma Bryant used the example of research conducted during Hurricane Katrina. Several children were asked about their perspective on God during that moment of extreme emotion. The children said God had either saved them or inflicted harm as punishment. This mindset is present in the religious world in general and they hold implications for mental health. Faith can be beneficial for individuals when they demonstrate positive religious coping. Children who answered positively about God had this mindset. A negative mindset can also develop from faith. Children who believed that their pain was sent by God as punishment demonstrated negative coping which can be very destructive to mental health as it can lead to feelings of guilt. 

Mental Health In Pakistan 

Mental Health awareness has increased dramatically in Pakistan over the past few years, but there is still much to be done. People in rural Pakistan and small cities still view t mental health symptoms as a curse or punishment from God and may regard seeking psychiatric services as showing spiritual weakness. Most practising therapists and counsellors in Pakistan still continue to preach religion to serious mental health patients, this is nothing short of malpractice Islam puts great emphasis on the preservation of intellect and clearly demarcates between competency and incompetency. Furthermore, we can see many modern psychological techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral  Therapy (CBT) being seen preached in the Quran and Islam. But therapists who do not have in-depth knowledge of this subject should not preach religion in a health care setting. Pakistan also does not have a psychological association that can check and maintain a standard. As more and more people graduate as psychologists we can hope the future will be much better.

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Musa Qaiser
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