Mental health: ethnic minority carers’ experiences

Support from spirituality and religion

While 'spirituality' means different things to different people, it usually involves people trying to understand what lies beyond the physical world that we can see and hear. Spirituality can, for example, mean believing in a higher power, looking for inner peace, trying to find a reason for things that happen to us, believing in life after death, seeking to forgive others for their failures, or attempting to feel connected and in balance with others. When the people we spoke to talked about their spirituality many were describing very personal journeys.

Religious communities organise their spiritual beliefs, practices and rituals in different ways. There are many different religions in the UK and we spoke to people who follow Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and traditional Chinese ancestor worship. This page focuses most on Christianity because the people we talked to discussed this religion the most.

Some people were deeply religious, such as those who described themselves as Evangelical Christian. Others saw themselves as more liberal in their religion, or even as just spiritual without belonging to a religion. Others still sought support through self-development (for example yoga, meditation, positive thinking) and philosophies such as Taoism, which focuses on the links between people and nature.

Some of those who got support from their spirituality or religion described their faith as giving them strength and comfort during difficult times. For some, their spirituality was their only support when things got tough. People said spirituality and religion could help you in a whole range of ways including increasing emotional strength, avoiding bitterness, feeling blessed by God, feeling comforted when reading religious books, providing helpful ethics for living, feeling inner peace when visiting places of worship, and feeling supported by other worshippers and through praying.

For many carers, having to take control in difficult times can feel hard (see 'Taking control - difficult situations and medication'). Some believed in a higher power (for example God or Allah) who is in control over people's fates and that this was where they placed their trust. Believing in a higher power who has the overview and knows best was described as helping carers accept their lot because they saw it as part of 'God's plan', 'the way it is written', as 'a cross to carry', or as part of the cycle of birth, death and re-birth (reincarnation). 

Some carers felt that their close personal relationship to a higher power could give them peace of mind, make them feel safe, and provide companionship.

Many people regarded praying (which could involve talking to a higher power as you would another person, reciting religious words, requesting help and guidance, or expressing gratitude) as a key kind of support. People said that prayer could do things like help 'calm you down', give strength, and help them grieve. Some thought prayer helped their loved one who had a mental health problem to get better.

One person's experience as a carer had changed how he thought about prayer. Instead of waiting for miracles from God he now thinks prayers are answered by people helping each other out.

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Some carers said that, although they do not see themselves as religious, they did have a strong sense of being spiritual, and spirituality helps in being able to care for someone else. Spirituality helped people see the bigger picture; it gave meaning to experiences and helped them to cope with life's frustrations, anger and grief.

Some who did not think religion or spirituality was relevant to their role as a carer practised religion for other reasons. For one carer, who is from Japan, praying is part of her culture but she didn't really think about the spiritual side of it. To help her cope she preferred relationships to 'real people' rather than to God. There are also carers who had never been religious or spiritual. People who did not rely on spirituality felt that coping is ultimately down to people's own personal resources, including their life philosophy or beliefs.

The support people gained from religious communities varied. Some people felt that their religious community supported them. They got a lot from worshipping and socialising with like-minded others, talking to religious authorities, and even just being in places of worship. However, some chose not to talk about mental health issues in their place of worship out of fear of negative comments. A couple of people had changed religions - or even turned their back on their religion - because of unhelpful ideas such as the negative views about mental health problems in their religious community (see 'Negative attitudes to mental health problems'). Some people wished their religious communities were more accepting of mental health problems.

Some carers said religious and spiritual beliefs could create concerns and even problems. One person felt conflicted about signing a 'do not resuscitate' order for her aunt because she would have always have felt she had 'killed' her in the eyes of God. Other carers talked about how some people were 'addicted' to religion, or had been misled in their readings of the Bible or the Qur'an. Some thought mental health problems were caused by spirits or spiritual crisis, or made worse by unhelpful beliefs (see 'Carers' views: mental health problems & causes').

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Last reviewed September 2018.


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