People who describe themselves as “spiritual” but who aren’t members of an organized religion are more likely to suffer from a variety of mental problems, including eating disorders, drug abuse, depression, anxiety and phobias. This was the finding of a recent study conducted by researchers at University College London.
The study used survey data from more than 7,400 randomly selected adults. Study participants were asked about their spiritual beliefs and religious habits as well as their mental state. About 35% of those surveyed were self-described members of an organized religion and said they attended services at a church, synagogue or mosque. Nearly 20% of participants said they were spiritual but had no religious affiliation. The remaining survey members, about 45%, claimed to be neither spiritual nor religious.
When researchers looked at mental health data from the survey, they found that those who described themselves as spiritual but not religious were 77% more likely to be dependent on drugs and 50% more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorders. They were also 72% more likely to have one or more phobias and 37% more likely to have an eating disorder or other neurotic disorder.
The number of mental health issues found in the other two survey groups was about the same, with the exception of substance abuse. Survey participants who professed to belonging to an organized religion were found to be less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.
According to BBC News, about one fifth of people in the United Kingdom fall into the category of “spiritual but not religious.” A Newsweek survey found that about one quarter of people in the United States fall into this category. People who believe in spirituality range from pagans to those who subscribe to astrology and faith healing, with many sub-categories of belief.
Researchers who conducted the study concluded that people who have spiritual beliefs without a religious framework are at greater risk of experiencing mental disorders. They did not offer any theories on why this is the case, but instead suggested that further study into the relationship between spirituality and mental health is needed.
The study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.