Psychologist sees benefits of prayer, meditation on mental health

Spirited Thinking | Aug. 26, 2013

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Mahlet Endale, licensed psychologist and the suicide prevention coordinator at Emory's Counseling and Psychological Services Department

Mahlet Endale, a licensed psychologist and the suicide prevention coordinator at Emory's Counseling and Psychological Services Department, has witnessed first-hand the benefits of religion and prayer or mediation on one's mental health.

As a doctoral student, Endale spent three weeks in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami. "People had very different reactions" to the tragedy, she says. "Some people were drawn closer to religion and their faith, whereas for some people it really tested their faith."

While everyone's faith journey is different, Endale came away convinced that religious and meditative practices have a positive impact on one's sense of well being. She notes that regardless of religion, faith or beliefs, researchers have noted countless benefits.

According to Endale, studies show that religious faith fosters social connections and helps give people a sense of purpose in the world. Studies also show that a sense of hope that is created through faith improves one's mental well being, which is correlated with better physical health as well.

Religious practices also foster creative skill building (e.g., music, dance, singing, art), and attending religious services sets a recognizable break away from work, family issues and self-fulfilling issues.

Taking a "time-out period" dedicated to concentrating on a higher power provides a much-needed respite from the concerns of modern daily living, says Endale, plus focusing on something other than self is associated with improved mental health.

In particular, Endale cites studies showing the specific benefits of prayer or meditation on mental wellbeing, providing:

  • Deep relaxation,
  • Inner calm,
  • Help in solving problems and developing insight,
  • Better concentration and patience,
  • An outlet for releasing anger and easing stress, grief and fear; and
  • Away of accessing one's creative potential.

"Mental health concerns are often started by or exacerbated by stress and poor self-care," says Endale. She lists not getting appropriate sleep/food, neglecting relationships and isolating yourself, not exercising, among others. "It's important to know our limitations and when to ask for help."

A wide variety of options available for help, says Endale, including religious/spiritual leaders, family and friends. Emory's counseling center is a place to get extra support and care. If you are struggling but are unsure if you are at a point where you need more help, you can use the stress assessment on the Emory Cares 4 U website to find out.

"The assessment is anonymous, and once you complete the assessment a counseling center clinician will communicate with you through the system to give you feedback (again anonymously) about your results," says Endale. "If you decide you'd like to seek services, we can help you identify the best place to address your needs." This link is also on the counseling center website by the "how are you doing" link.