Spirituality and emotions examined

Last updated 11:46 04/01/2013
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QUIET TIME: Many people use their spiritual side as a source of comfort.

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People who are spiritual are more likely than atheists or the religious to be mentally unwell, according to a new study by University College in London.

They are also more likely to have used or abused drugs, to experience anxiety, neurosis or phobias and have "abnormal eating attitudes."

Researchers came to these conclusions after analysing the data from nearly 7,500 interviews with randomly selected men and women in the UK.

More than nine out of 10 were white British, with an average age of 46. They were asked about their spiritual or religious beliefs and their psychological state.

Of the participants, 35 per cent identified themselves as religious and attended either a church, mosque, synagogue or temple.

Only 19 per cent said they were spiritual, but not religious while 46 per cent said they were neither religious or spiritual.

Religious people and atheists were on par in regards to prevalence of mental disorders, but the religious were less likely to have ever used drugs or be a heavy drinker.

The spiritual people, on the other hand, were 50 per cent more likely to have an anxiety disorder, 72 per cent more likely to suffer from a phobia and 77 per cent more likely to have a drug dependency.

It is not all bad news for believers.

Other studies that have found performing religious or spiritual practices provides physical and psychological benefits and helps people to integrate intellectually and emotionally.

"Transcendent spiritual and religious experiences have a positive, healing, restorative effect, especially if they are 'built in,' so to speak, to one's daily, weekly, seasonal, and annual cycles of living," said Ellen Idler, acting dean of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Rutgers University, in a paper titled The Psychological and Physical Benefits of Spiritual/Religious Practices.

As for the latest study, published in British Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers concluded that: "People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder.

"The nature of this association needs greater examination in qualitative and in prospective quantitative research."

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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