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The Power of the Group? Spirituality without Religion Ups Mental Illness Risk

Researchers say that people who navigate spirituality without religion are more likely to have addiction and mental health problems.

Does belonging to a group matter?...Does it matter if you subscribe to any given religion so long as you have a personal spiritual understanding?

According to researchers at University College London, it probably does - they say that people who profess a sense of spirituality without any religious affiliation are significantly more likely to abuse drugs and to succumb to a variety of mental illnesses.

The Study

The researchers polled a random sample of 7403 people in the UK and asked about religious and spiritual beliefs, drug or alcohol abuse and mental illness/emotional problems.

The Results

  • Of the people polled, 46% described themselves as not religious or spiritual, 35% described themselves as religious (predominantly Christian) and 15% described themselves as spiritual without belonging to any particular religion.
  • Religious and non religious/non spiritual subjects were about equally likely to have addiction or mental illness

Compared to religious and not religious/not spiritual subjects, spiritual but not religious subjects were:

  • 77% more likely to be addicted to drugs
  • 72% more likely to have a specific phobia and 50% more likely to have generalized anxiety disorder
  • 46% more likely to have abnormal eating attitudes
  • 40% more likely to be using psychotropic medications
  • 37% more likely to have a neurotic disorder

The Commentary

Lead author Professor Michael King explained that there is mounting evidence that spirituality without a religious framework increases a person’s vulnerability to mental illness. What’s needed now, he says, is more research to investigate what’s causing this increased susceptibility.

Read the full study findings in The British Journal of Psychiatry.

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