The Faith Factor-Interactions Between Beliefs and Mental Health

 If somebody asked you what you believe in, how would you answer? Our religious or spiritual beliefs (or, alternatively, decidedly not having religious or spiritual beliefs) can all form the basis for an inner faith and can have a significant impact on our worldview and our mental health. They can affect how we approach life, how we choose to face challenges, and how we connect with others.  Especially in times like these where we are faced with uncertainty, many people find that their inner belief systems, whether religious, spiritual, or otherwise, have become a more significant part of their life, and others may start to look for new ways to improve their mental health. To that end, I wanted to contribute a small piece in order to provide a glimpse into ways others draw on their beliefs for strength and comfort during challenging times.  

For this piece, I interviewed six people with widely differing spiritual backgrounds in order to explore how faith and mental health can interact. Here, I’m presenting a small excerpt from each person’s story.  As you read through each person’s story, please keep in mind that each interviewee has unique circumstances, and their remarks on any given belief system are not meant to collectively represent everybody who shares the same beliefs— it’s a simple case study that depicts various individuals’ stories. 

Because I wished to stay as true as possible to each person’s unique voice, I have included every person’s answers as they were written. For ease of reading, I have identified them by their initials, and their responses will be color-coded with the color assigned in the key below.  I hope that as you read, you can find some inspiration or solace in the words of others.  

|| A.S || M.T || S.I || C.N || R.T || L.Z || 

  1. What faith do you identify as? 

AS: Christian. 

MT: Atheist. 

SI: I’m a Baha’i (The Baha’i Faith). 

CN: Jewish. 

RT: Follower of Jesus (“Christian”). 

LZ: Buddhist in terms of cultural and family identity, but more generally “spiritual” or “humanist” in my actual practice and worldview.

  1. How, if at all, have your beliefs affected your mental health? 

AS: My beliefs give me a kind of peace and stop me from worrying too much or letting anxiety overcome me. 

MT: I feel like relying on higher beings to fix my problems would decrease my independent ability. 

SI: My faith has always been the foundation behind everything I strive for in life. I strive to love myself as much as God loves me…there’s a sense of comfort in knowing that you are worthy of love regardless of what anyone else says or what you look like. 

CN: Struggling with mental health is sort of a godless time, but I would say that my faith helped me stay connected to things that mattered like my family when I thought I didn’t belong. 

RT: My faith provides a distinctive spiritual trajectory to my existential crises and recoveries. I have seen my troubled times as a sort of “dark night of the soul” and peaceful times as a sort of revelation of God’s grace made manifest. 

LZ: Mindfulness and meditation practices have helped me to be more aware of my relationship with my thoughts and to let go of the ego or the inner-critic.  

  1. Drawing inspiration from your faith and your life experiences, what advice would you give to people who are struggling with their mental health?

AS: See a psychiatrist, and get busy with hobbies (like art, or reading, or exercising). 

MT: All decisions are yours to make and every mistake you encounter only helps you grow as an individual and develops your independence. 

SI: Opening up and spending time with others reminds you of what a gift life is and why it’s crucial you live it to the fullest. Definitely easier said than done, but it’s worth the work. 

CN: Mental health is a roller coaster, you will have good days and bad. Find someone to rely on, because things will always get better. 

RT: Let go and let God be with you. You are loved exactly as you are in your imperfect state and although faith will not make your struggles go away, you can rest in grace and hope that God will carry you through. 

LZ: Allow yourself grace, forgiveness, and time to heal. Know that all that you need to be is all that you are now, that you are doing the very best you can (and that’s enough), and that when you can do better you will. There is no weakness or shame in seeking help and support.

Editor’s note: Learn some well-being tips here.