Discuss Religion, Spirituality When Treating Mental Illness And Suicide

Written by Jim Folk
Written by Jim Folk
Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN
Last updated June 23, 2021
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Discuss Religion, Spirituality When Treating Mental Illness And Suicide research recommends

Research over the last three years has found a dramatic rise in mental illness and suicide among all age groups, particularly the youth. For example:

  • According to the DailyWire, a Centers For Disease Control (CDC) report showed that the suicide rate among children between the ages of 10 and 17 skyrocketed to 70% and over (white children rose 70% and black children rose 77%) between 2006 and 2016 in the USA alone.[1]
  • CNN reported that the suicide rate among young girls between the ages of 15 and 19 rose to a 40-year high in the U.S. in 2015.[2]
  • Overall, the annual U.S. suicide rate increased 30% from 2000 to 2006 alone.[3]
  • 49.5% of U.S. adolescents age 13 to 18 had a mental disorder with 22.2% having severe impairment.[4]
  • Suicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S. with it being the second leading cause of death among individuals between 10 and 34.[5]
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year olds globally.[6]
  • Teenage suicides rise by 107% in London, the Independent reports.[7]
  • Children and young people aged 4 to 24 who reported a long-standing mental health condition experienced a six-fold increase between 1995 and 2014, and young people, aged 16 to 24, were almost 10 times more likely to report a long-standing mental health condition in 2014 than in 1995.[8]
  • The total estimated number of people living with depression worldwide increased by 18.4% between 2005 and 2015 to 322 million.[9]
  • The global cost of mental disorders is expected to rise by 240% by 2030.[10]

No matter where you look, mental health problems and suicide rates are rising sharply and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight. Again, this is particularly true for youth.

We’ve seen this in our own work over the last 15 years. While it seems that more and more societies are moving toward policies that better please their people, such as about abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism, legalization of marijuana, shorter work hours, working from home, a trend toward socialism, and so on, theoretically, there should be a downward trend in mental illness and suicide rather than an upward spike if those issues actually made people happy.

To figure out what is causing the upward rather than the downward trend in spite of the many changes in social policies, researchers are now exploring a wide variety of options, including the spiritual. For example, a study by Baylor University found that “a majority of young adults with severe mental illness – bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression – consider religion and spirituality relevant to their mental health.” This research echoes numerous previous studies over the last 15 years that found a positive correlation between incorporating religious/spiritual concepts in with traditional cognitive therapy (often referred to as RCBT – Religious Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), especially for mental disorders like anxiety and depression.[11][12][13][14][15]

Based on the success of RCBT, many institutions and treatment facilities in Europe are at the forefront of bringing these treatments mainstream. Many in North America are also moving in that direction. For instance, we also incorporate religious/spiritual aspects into the treatment of anxiety and depression (as well as many other mental health challenges) for those who are interested in discussing religious/spiritual matters. We’ve found that discussing religious/spiritual matters where appropriate enhances the recovery process and can lead to a more meaningful and lasting recovery (especially because they address the big questions/fears in life, such as death, dying, pain and suffering, loss, uncertainty, self-worth, meaning/purpose in life, and so on).

Because of the many positive outcomes associated with incorporating religious/spiritual concepts, many in the medical profession are also moving in that direction, as well, as numerous medical studies have also shown a positive correlation between including religious/spiritual concepts and better medical health outcomes.[16][17][18][19][20]

The press release below is an another example of what researchers are discovering about the inclusion of religious/spiritual concepts in mental health care, including for youth.

Discuss religion, spirituality when treating young adults with severe mental illness


WACO, Texas (July 30, 2018) – A majority of young adults with severe mental illness – bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression – consider religion and spirituality relevant to their mental health, according to a new study from Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.

Holly Oxhandler, Ph.D., associate dean for research and faculty development in the Garland School of Social Work, served as lead author on the study, which was published in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice.

Researchers examined data from 55 young adults (ages 18-25) with serious mental illness who had used crisis emergency services. Of the 55 young adults interviewed, 34 “mentioned religion or spirituality in the context of talking about their mental health symptoms and service use with little-to-no prompting,” researchers wrote.

The sample for the study was racially diverse and gender-balanced. Not all of those interviewed considered themselves religious, as 41 percent answered “other,” “I don’t know” or “none” when asked their religious preference. However, researchers found that religion and spirituality emerged as a unique way in which this sample was able to make sense of their difficult life situations and mental health struggles.

“Not only did these young adults struggle with serious mental illness, but they had also experienced extreme adversity – including abuse, poverty, homelessness, addiction, near-death experiences, loss and an overwhelming lack of access to medical and mental health services,” researchers wrote. “Yet, many attempted to explain, make sense of or organize their circumstances through their religious/spiritual perspective and talked about God as a source of comfort and support.”

The young adults expressed both positive and negative views of God, prayer and support from religious and spiritual communities. Regardless of their views, the important thing to note, Oxhandler explained, is that they’re talking about these topics – something social workers and counselors traditionally are not often equipped or trained to assess or discuss.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” Oxhandler said of discussions of religion and spirituality. “If we continue to ignore it, we’re ignoring a huge component of peoples’ lives that may be tied to the clinical issue.”

Oxhandler, who has researched this area extensively, said such discussions can help drive subsequent treatment options.

“As mental health care providers discern what mental health services to provide or coping strategies to recommend, it’s especially important they understand the role of religion/spirituality in the lives of the vulnerable young adults they serve,” she said.

Researchers also found that those surveyed described using positive religious coping, negative religious coping or experiences, discussed their relationship with God/Higher Power and unpacked the role of their support systems and faith.

Positive religious coping included prayer, reading religious texts, support from their religious and spiritual communities and identifying religious and spiritual meaning in difficult situations.

Negative religious coping or experiences included having a negative experience with a religious organization not being supportive or receiving hurtful messages from the religious community.

“Those who discussed their relationship with God or a higher power discussed God providing a sense of comfort or protection, accepting them for who they are or positively intervening in their lives,” Oxhandler said. “Among those who unpacked the role of their support systems and faith, they often described family and friends referencing religion or God for support, and some even offered recommendations for others struggling with mental illness that involve religion and spirituality.”

Some of those interviewed shared that they found the mention of God or religion by family and friends less than helpful.

For example, a 22-year-old white female with no religious identification mentioned in her interview that a family member “tries to tell me that going to church will be better for me because it will help me find peace, and it really does quite the opposite.”

Interestingly, researchers noted that nearly all participants who reported negative experiences with religion and spirituality also reported utilizing positive religious and spiritual coping or having a positive relationship with God.

Oxhandler said such complexity highlights the importance of including religion and spirituality during the initial assessment with a client.

“It’s critical that mental health care providers be well equipped and trained to assess for the complex role of religion and spirituality in the lives of young adults with serious mental illness, recognizing that it could appear to be a tremendous source of support and resilience and/or a source of pain and discomfort, if even a part of their lives at all,” she said.

Disclaimer: anxietycentre.com is not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted at anxietycentre.com by contributing institutions or for the use of any information throughout anxietycentre.com’s system.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including Discuss Religion, Spirituality When Treating Mental Illness And Suicide.


1. Shapiro, Ben. “CDC: Youth Suicide Skyrockets 70% Over Last Decade. Here's Why.” Daily Wire, The Daily Wire, 20 Mar. 2018, www.dailywire.com/news/28449/cdc-youth-suicide-skyrockets-70-over-last-decade-ben-shapiro.
2. Scutti, Susan. “Suicide Rate Hit 40-Year Peak among Older Teen Girls in 2015.” CNN, Cable News Network, 3 Aug. 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/08/03/health/teen-suicide-cdc-study-bn/index.html.
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