The Impact of Strong Spirituality in Management of Mental Health Challenges

Obiotika Wilfred Toochukwu

The World Health organization (who) defined ‘health’ as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. It is important to note that this definition has been subject to ongoing discussion and refinement over the years.

Here, we want to add ‘spiritual’ well-being as it affects every other aspect of human health. On 15th of July, the international organization has stated that “the more we talk about Mental Health the more we get close to reducing stigma and discrimination”. The need for action on mental health is indisputable and urgent. Mental health has intrinsic and instrumental value and is integral to our well-being. Mental health is determined by a complex interplay of individual, social and structural stresses and vulnerabilities.

Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. Looking at the world in which we live, where everything has changed but human nature, human heart and human cruelty, it would be difficult and near impossibility for every person to achieve mental well-being without divine help or recourse to superior being.

This is why strong spirituality is highly recommended as we move on with daily stress, problems and disappointments. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in.

However, in Africa, Nigeria in particular, there are a lot of abuses, myths and misconceptions concerning mental health. So many do not regard mental disorder as a medical condition. This is why it is very dicey to talk about mental health and spirituality. There are a lot of preachers and prophets in Nigeria who are mentally challenged. One would then wonder how spirituality can help in the management of mental health challenges.

Nonetheless, mental health is a basic human right. And it is crucial to personal, community and socio-economic development. One out of every three Nigerians believe that mental health challenge is a spiritual attack. And the best solution that comes to mind is sending the patient to a powerful prophet or ministry where the evil spirit would be cast out making the individual free and sound.

Some ministries and prayer houses in Nigeria believe that by inflicting torture and excruciating pain on the mentally challenged person, the evil/unclean spirit will flee away. This error has led to negative prognosis and complications in mental health challenge management.

Certainly, exposure to unfavourable social, economic, geopolitical and environmental circumstances – including poverty, violence, inequality and environmental deprivation – also increases people’s risk of experiencing mental health conditions. Poverty affects a person’s mental health, productivity and job. A study has projected that deeply spiritual people could more likely suffer from mental disorder.

Sigmund Freud famously considered this domain, a form of neurosis and that is why he is rarely made reference to in modern psychiatry or modeled in the professional treatment procedures. Spirituality remains at the sidelines of Mental Health science to this day. Authorities as Carl Jung, Viktor Frankland William James had such opinions.

Spiritual competency training in mental health explain the reason why psychiatrists advocate a relationship with a higher being even when church attendance is not a treatment plan. Yoga exercises and Taichi regimen are religious practices geared towards getting the right spirituality. Mental health disorder is like a “cancer, leprosy” of the mind.

Patients with schizophrenia and depression, having insomnia or difficulty falling asleep – the watching of christian movies, reading the bible, reflecting from a devotional or meditation, will calm the mind and sedate it to sleep. This works like magic when combined with medication.

Spirituality helps in the positive prognosis of mental health challenges. Spiritual Health is at the core of human health and acts as a force to coordinate physical, mental, and social dimensions and is needed to cope with the disease (Ross et al, 2016). Promoting spiritual health may not cure a disease, but it does help one feel better, prevents some health problems, and helps in adapting to disease or death (Trevino, & Pargament 2017).

In addition, spirituality is the recognition of a feeling that there is something greater than oneself, something more than a sensory experience of being human, implying the greater whole of which we are part that is divine. Spirituality is above understanding the mundane existence at the level of the biological needs driven by selfishness and aggression. Spirituality explores universal themes such as love, compassion, life after death, wisdom and truth.

Most importantly, spirituality can be a valuable resource for managing mental health challenges, but it is not a substitute for Professional Mental Health Care. Engaging in spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, or mindfulness can help reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and provide a sense of inner peace.

Spiritual beliefs often come with moral and ethical guidelines that provide a framework for decision-making and behaviour. Adhering to these principles can contribute to a sense of integrity, self-worth and emotional well-being.

Most people with mental health challenges are joy-starved. Due to disorganized thoughts, behaviours, mood swings; they are forsaken and abandoned. They feel lonely most of the time. But that is just a fact of life. No matter the circumstances in your mental health challenge, there is a way. Learn to be alone without feeling lonely – that is a time of great spiritual impact, impartation.

The old motto of soldiers during the revolutionary war applies to many areas of life: “Trust in god, but keep your powder dry!” having a strong spirituality does not warrant that you forsake professional treatment and self-care. Spiritual practices are not an alternative to professional medical management. We trust god for our health, but that doesn’t mean we can chain smoke, stay up half the night, and subsist on potato chips and twinkies without consequences.

Rather than look forward in fear, look upward in faith. Rather than worry about anything, pray about everything. The path of peace is paved with prayer. Less consternation, more supplication. Fewer anxious thoughts, more prayer-filled thoughts. Everything becomes better with prayer. This does not advocate that professional treatment would be by-passed in the search for solution for mental health disorders.

Some diseases such as cancer draw strength from depression, bitterness, anger, resentment, malice and sadness. But laughter has curative power and is an expression of joy and cheerfulness. To be the best of you at all times, you must allow your body to rest and refresh itself through sleep.

God satisfies! This is the secret of soul-satisfaction. Through spirituality, we enter the realm where ‘all things are possible’, we become like the company we keep, we obtain blessings reachable only at certain levels. There are passages in the holy books that can help individuals facing mental health challenges, find solace and reassurance in them during difficult times.

A strong spirituality will help patients have a sense of purpose and meaning in life, show gratitude and appreciation, experience inner peace and calmness, display compassion and empathy, give forgiveness and resilience. Patients with schizophrenia, depression or mania can use spirituality as a coping mechanism, social support while adhering strictly to evidence-based medical treatment. Some spiritual communities may be more accepting and understanding of mental health conditions, reducing the stigma and discrimination often faced by individuals.

Although mental health conditions are common worldwide, people living with them often experience discrimination. It prevents them from seeking and receiving the care they need. In a decadent society the will to believe, to resist, to contend, to fight, to struggle, is gone.

How then do we juxtapose this with someone who is mentally challenged; having delusions, lethargy, apathy and over-excitement? In place of this will to resist, there is the desire to conform, to drift, to follow, to yield, and to give up. This is what happens to someone mentally stable and in a decent society. The same conditions are experienced by those with mental health disorders in severe dimensions.

We ardently recommend a stronger spirituality that would not have much talk about religion but being fervent in the practice of one’s faith. Man is made up of spirit, mind and body. Animals like dogs have mind and body but they don’t have a spirit. The mind is afflicted when we have mental disorder. But when we don’t take care of our spirit we would descend to the level of animals. If we fail to take God’s word seriously, our spirit will be impeded. This leads to a truncated spirituality.

The spiritual man transforms the world around him from within. He is often guided by intuition, conscience and the spirit of truth. The intellectual man, on the other hand, uses rationality, logic and the senses to react to the world. The spiritual is more subjective by being obedient to the dictates, statutes and ordinances of the most high. Most people do not know the difference between soul and spirit and some believe that man is made up of only body and soul.  When standards are abandoned, with disintegration of family, prevalence of divorce, rampant immorality; then faith is not just at a low ebb, mental health is screwed.

Recovering from mental health conditions is possible. Let’s end the stigma.

Obiotika Wilfred Toochukwu writes from Lagos, Nigeria.