Religious Support Helps Individuals with Chronic Illness A new study reveals that religious and spiritual support helps both men and women cope, and then live with, a chronic disease.

University of Missouri researchers embarked on the study to understand how spirituality/religion can be used for coping with significant health issues.

The scope of investigation follows earlier findings that spirituality and the practice of religion is associated with better physical and mental health.

“Our findings reinforce the idea that religion/spirituality may help buffer the negative consequences of chronic health conditions,” said health psychologist Dr. Stephanie Reid-Arndt. “We know that there are many ways of coping with stressful life situations, such as a chronic illness; involvement in religious/spiritual activities can be an effective coping strategy.”

Religious and spiritual support is conveyed by care from congregations, religious counseling and forgiveness practices, and assistance from pastors and hospital chaplains.

Religious support is associated with better mental health outcomes for women and with better physical and mental health for men, according to a recent publication from the University of Missouri Center for Religion and the Professions research group.

“Both genders benefit from social support – the ability to seek help from and rely on others – provided by fellow congregants and involvement in religious organizations,” said co-author Brick Johnstone, Ph.D .

“Encouragement to seek out religious and spiritual supports can assist individuals in coping with stress and physical symptoms related to health issues.

“Health care providers can urge patients to take advantage of these resources, which provide emotional care, financial assistance and opportunities for increased socialization.”

Researchers discovered men and women have similar reports of spiritual experiences, religious practices or congregational support.

This finding contrasts with other studies that suggest women may be more spiritual or participate in religion more frequently than men.

“While women generally are more religious or spiritual than men, we found that both genders may increase their reliance on spiritual and religious resources as they face increased illness or disability,” Johnstone said.

However, for women the role of spirituality was associated with positive mental coping. This was exemplified by daily spiritual experiences and suggests that belief in a loving, supportive and forgiving higher power is related with positive mental coping for women with chronic conditions.

For men, religious support – the perception of help, support and comfort from local congregations – was associated with better self-rated health.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia