Spiritual but Not Religious Persons More Likely to Have Mental Disorder

A recent study found that those who identify as spiritual but not religious are more likely to develop a mental disorder.

They are also more likely to be dependent on drugs and have abnormal eating attitudes, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The study was led by Michael King, a professor at University College London, with the goal of examining associations between a spiritual or religious understanding of life and psychiatric symptoms and diagnoses. Results were based on data from interviews with 7,403 people who participated in the third National Psychiatric Morbidity Study in England.

Thirty-five percent of the participants had a religious understanding of life, 19 percent were spiritual but not religious (SBNR) and 46 percent were neither religious nor spiritual.

Religious people were similar to those who were neither religious nor spiritual with regard to the prevalence of mental disorders, according to the study. Religious people, however, were less likely to have ever used drugs or be a hazardous drinker.

Compared to the other two groups, the spiritual but not religious persons were most likely to have: ever used drugs (30 percent of SBNR vs. 16 percent of religious), abnormal eating attitudes, generalized anxiety disorder, and any phobia or neurotic disorder (19 percent of SBNR vs. 15 percent of religious). They were also most likely to be taking psychotropic medication.

"People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder," said King in the study.

Greg Stier, president of Dare 2 Share ministry, has seen his share of spiritual but not religious teenagers with massive emotional challenges. And he's convinced that a local church community is the best place to prevent isolation, hopelessness and essentially mental disorders.

"While I can't speak to the impact of organized religion outside of Christianity I can speak to the impact of the Christian faith. And although I'm not a big fan of the word 'religion,' I am a big fan of the church. Because it is in the context of local churches where believers can grow in their faith, strengthen relationships with others, use their spiritual gifts to serve and be equipped to share their faith outside the church context," Stier said in a statement to The Christian Post.

"These practices, along with submitting to spiritual leadership and embracing mutual accountability with other Christians for their spiritual walk, can become a spider web of support for both the soul and the psyche."

The spiritual but not religious crowd has been seen as a growing movement in the United States with more people choosing to distance themselves from church or organized religion while still believing in some sort of higher power.

Stier, a former pastor, makes the case that being part of a church is critical.

"The message of Jesus provides forgiveness for the past, power for the present and hope for the future," he noted. "The people of God provide encouragement for people who are experiencing trouble and trials. I'm convinced that active participation in a local, healthy and loving church can do much to heal deep emotional issues – sometimes more than the best psychiatry the world has to offer."

The passionate youth leader believes Christians who refuse to be part of a church are either misinformed or arrogant and setting themselves up for failure.

"A coal burns brightest and longest in the midst of other coals. Christians shine brighter and longer when they are in the midst of other Christians," Stier explained.

"[T]he church is the primary portal for what the everyday Christian needs to make it through every day. When Christians turn their backs on the church they turn their back on the primary portal of God's work in this fallen world."

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