Hyper-religiosity is often a feature of mania in bipolar disorder. But for many, religion and spirituality are tools to support medication and talk therapy when living with bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a complicated group of conditions, with diagnosis in part based on at least one episode of mania or hypomania.
Mania sometimes involves an intense religious experience, which could be delusion or false beliefs. For an individual, such experiences can hold great spiritual meaning, but can also result in confusion about their significance.
Recent research has analyzed in-depth interviews with folks who have bipolar disorder and report religious experiences.
They reveal that most understand them as a combination of bipolar disorder symptoms and genuine spiritual experiences. For many people, having a faith-based or spiritual practice can be a helpful tool in managing bipolar disorder, along with medication and conventional therapy.
For a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, individuals must experience at least one episode of mania or hypomania. This is a period of high energy or irritability accompanied by specific changes in behavior.
Some people experiencing mania may also experience false beliefs or hallucinations. These are known as psychotic features. If someone with bipolar disorder reports hearing the voice of God, or believing they’re God’s messenger, a mental health professional could determine this as a psychotic feature.
For the person undergoing this experience, the situation may be more layered.
Some folks describe such episodes of mania as profoundly meaningful spiritual experiences. They may do significant personal work to find a balance between their faith and management of the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
There is some evidence that this balance may be an important one. A 2018 study of 168 people with bipolar disorder found that positive religious coping was associated with better quality of life, even when individuals were not experiencing a mood episode.
Mania, religion, and lack of support
For some people, it can be challenging to find support from their faith communities during their journey with bipolar disorder. Some folks report silence about mental health within families and congregations, while they say physical health is commonly given up to God for healing.
Mental health challenges are sometimes dismissed as the result of “demons,” lack of self-control, or “personality problems.” Such invalidation of individual experiences can be hard for someone trying to remain part of their spiritual community, while actively managing a mental health condition.
What is hyper-religiosity?
Hyper-religiosity is when a person engages more frequently in religious practices or has religious-themed delusions during a period of mania.
Research from 2019 notes that people with bipolar disorder who experience mania with religious aspects often want to know whether their experiences are genuine or a symptom of illness. The same paper notes that mental health professionals are not always able to offer a clear answer.
The study looked at 196 people with bipolar disorder — two-thirds of whom reported religious experience. It found that 50% believed religiosity was important to talk about in conventional treatment.
Of those who had religious experiences, almost half spoke about it with a mental health professional.
Another paper from 2020 notes that, although hyper-religiosity is a well-known part of some mania experiences, there is little research on how religious beliefs may affect the course of bipolar disorder.
The paper suggests it’s possible that religion could help prevent future episodes of mania or depression, although it does not suggest a person with bipolar disorder should reject medication or stop adhering to treatment.
Hyper-religiosity during mania can give some people a profound sense of spiritual connection and lead some to pursue a spiritual quest. However, some research shows this feeling can change over time.
In a 2019 study of 34 people with bipolar disorder who had spiritual experiences, people tried to distinguish what was genuine enlightenment and what was a symptom of bipolar disorder. Most of the interviewees interpreted their experience with a mixture of medical and religious explanations.
In the study, those who had experiences while younger reported less significance as time passed. Religious affiliation and the course of bipolar disorder also influenced how people came to understand those experiences.
Symptoms of mania reported similar to spiritual awakening
As the research demonstrates, both people with bipolar disorder and mental health professionals may labor to distinguish between genuine religious experience and a symptom of mania.
Hallucinations, delusions, and false beliefs are defined as psychotic features, which may or may not form part of an episode of mania. When someone experiences a new and unsupported religious belief, like they’re God’s special messenger, this could be seen as a psychotic feature of a manic episode.
Genuine spiritual or religious experiences, on the other hand, are much more challenging to define. One scholar notes that the objective view of the psychiatric community is to view all such experiences as stemming from the illness.
The subjective view of the individual, on the other hand, is that the experience may have both spiritual and medical causes.
|Symptoms of mania/psychosis||Self-reports of enlightenment|
|flood of ideas||epiphanies or revelations|
|hearing voices||hearing the voice of divinity|
|grandiosity||a feeling of being “chosen”|
|sharply increased goal-oriented behaviors (can be many endeavors)||goal-oriented behavior (typically single objective)|
|drive toward high-consequence behaviors e.g. overspending|
|heightened sexual impulsivity|
|fidgety, restless||a feeling of centeredness, stillness|
|operating “full steam” on little-to-no sleep||sleep disruptions|
For anyone living with bipolar disorder, medication and talk therapy are the gold standards of treatment. One firsthand report details how an individual with bipolar disorder attempted to manage it through spirituality alone, with nearly devastating results as her symptoms returned.
Nonetheless, having a spiritual practice or belief system can be an invaluable resource for many people. This can take many forms, including participating in a faith community and practicing meditation.
Meditation and bipolar disorder: Research
Meditation is a practice generally designed to help enhance mindfulness and focus on the present moment. There are many forms of meditation that people may use to help with bipolar disorder symptoms.
Research shows meditation for bipolar disorder management may be effective.
Bipolar disorder is a complicated group of conditions. One hallmark of bipolar disorder is mania or hypomania.
When mania has religious features, it can be hard to tell if you’re having a spiritual experience or a bipolar disorder symptom. Many people find a balance between faith and the gold standard bipolar disorder management of meds alongside talk therapy.
If you want to find someone to talk with about your experiences, check out the resources on Psych Central’s Find a Therapist and Mental Health Support page.