Experiences of psychosis

Spirituality and religion

Spirituality and religion mattered to many of the people we spoke to. Spirituality means different things to different people, but is concerned with experiencing and appreciating the sacred within or beyond the material world. Religion is generally a more structured belief system, involving emotion, morality, and a sense of identity and community. We spoke to people of different faiths, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, New Age and Rastafarianism, as well as to people who did not identify with any particular religion, but who valued their spirituality nonetheless. Other people said spirituality played no part in their life, or just didn’t discuss their spirituality or religion in our conversation.
Many people noted a link between religion or spirituality and their mental health. In response to unusual experiences some people had learnt kinds of prayer and meditation, or found out more about psychic activity and mediums. Some people had experiences with a religious flavour to them (e.g. thinking that the Day of Judgement was happening or that they were Jesus Christ) that they now thought were because they had been unwell at the time. (For more information see the ‘Hearing voices, seeing things and unusual beliefs’). Others said that their faith and spirituality supported their wellbeing and recovery, offering a worldview which could allow a non-medical interpretation of unusual experiences and sometimes a positive and welcoming community to which they could belong. Several people shared a belief in the existence of God, Allah, or a higher power or consciousness.
How religion and spirituality helped
Many people were helped by religious organisations such as churches and faith groups, but also by prayer, meditation and a belief in a higher power. While meditation involves concentration and the development of awareness, prayer is about communicating with a higher power to express feelings and thoughts, offer gratitude and make requests. It may also involve opening yourself up to a God. (For more discussion, see ‘Spirituality, Religion and God’ in the Healthtalk - Depression website). Religion was an important part of some people’s recovery (see ‘Recovery’ for more information). A belief in a good and loving god alongside going to a day centre and doing art work helped one man a lot towards his recovery.
Devon was helped by a Christian pastor when he felt unwell in the middle of the night, whilst Janey was helped by a chaplain on the university campus who offered her hospitality with his family when she was unwell. Stuart spoke about a ‘befriender’ from the mental health charity Rethink who was very ‘spiritual’ and helped him a great deal.
 Some people talked about things they could learn from Buddhism and meditation. Dolly talked about how Buddhism helped her to think about where in her life she could make positive changes, and says that she doesn’t know what she would have done had she not come across Buddhism. Other people borrowed from many different belief systems and looked for what they could gain from each of them.
When spirituality doesn’t help
A few people had had bad experiences with religion or religious leaders such as imams or priests. For example, Arwen talked about being ‘frog-marched’ to Catholic Mass; when she was 14 as her mother thought she was possessed and had her exorcised. She felt terrified. Colin talked about a time when he was in hospital feeling unwell and ‘some sort of Church of Scotland exorcism team’ came to see him. He found it very strange and it just added to his distress at the time.
Other approaches to spirituality
After people experienced mental distress they often changed their approach to religion and spirituality. Whilst some rejected the faith they had followed since childhood, others studied religion and spirituality.
Some people thought their voices could be because they had ‘very good hearing’ (see ‘Hearing voices, seeing things and unusual beliefs’); others thought they might be their unconscious or a part of the soul. A few people found that talking to others about their faith helped to better connect it to their recovery, ensured they were not isolated, and involved a move away from ‘narrow’ psychiatric understandings of mental illness.

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated April 2014.


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