January 9th, 2013
06:00 AM ET
The spiritual but not religious likely to face mental health issues, drug use, study says
By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) – Can being spiritual but not religious lead to mental health issues? The answer is yes, according to a recent study.
The study, published in the January edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry, says spiritual but not religious people, as opposed to people who are religious, agnostic or atheist, were more likely to develop a "mental disorder," "be dependent on drugs" and "have abnormal eating attitudes,” like bulimia and anorexia.
“People who have spiritual beliefs outside of the context of any organized religion are more likely to suffer from these maladies,” said Michael King, a professor at University College London and the head researcher on the project.
Thirty percent of respondents who identified as spiritual said they had used drugs, a number that was nearly twice as much as the 16% of religious respondents who said they had used drugs, according to the study. Among the spiritual respondents, 5% said they were dependent on drugs, while 2% of religious respondents identified as dependent.
On mental health issues, the study said spiritual but not religious people were more likely to suffer from “any neurotic disorder,” “mixed anxiety/depressive disorders” or “depression” than their religious counterparts. Overall, 19% of spiritual respondents said they suffered from a neurotic disorder, while 15% of religious respondents responded the same way.
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The practice of being spiritual but not religious is difficult to define and has a number of gray areas. The phrase is generally used to describe people who do not attend church, atheists who believe in some sort of higher power, free thinkers and the unaffiliated. It is also used for people who blend different faiths.
In short, King writes, “People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder.”
King, who said he has received a substantial amount of hate mail over the study, defended his findings, “If you take drug dependency, they are about 77% more likely than religious respondents, 24% more likely to having a generalized anxiety disorder. These are quite obvious differences.”
Opinion: 'I'm spiritual but not religious' is a cop-out
The study was conducted with the government of the United Kingdom, which asked the questions as part of a larger psychiatric study.
With a sample of 7,403 British people, the study found that nearly 19% of England’s population is spiritual but not religious. That number is higher in the United States, where, according to a 2002 Gallup Poll, in a sample of 729 adults, 33% of Americans identified themselves as "spiritual but not religious.”
Past academic studies in the United States have come to similar conclusions, said Tanya Luhrmann, a psychological anthropologist and the Watkins University professor at Stanford University. Most academic research about religion and well-being, said Luhrmann, has found that religion is good for you.
According to Luhrmann, organized religion provides three outlets that benefit churchgoers' well being: social support, attachment to a loving God and the organized practice of prayer.
“When you become spiritual but not religious, you are losing the first two points and most spiritual but not religious people aren’t participating in the third,” Luhrmann said. “It is not just a generic belief in God that works; it is specific practices that work.”
People who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious push back against the notion that they have no community to fall back on or impetus to help the poor. In an interview with CNN in June 2010, BJ Gallagher, a Huffington Post blogger who writes about spirituality, compared spiritual but not religious people to people who complete 12-step programs to beat addiction.
“Twelve-step people have a brilliant spiritual community that avoids all the pitfalls of organized religion,” said Gallagher, author of “The Best Way Out is Always Through.” “Each recovering addict has a 'God of our own understanding,' and there are no priests or intermediaries between you and your God. It's a spiritual community that works.”
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Heather Cariou, a New York-based author, identifies as spiritual instead of religious. She told CNN last year that she adopted a spirituality that blends Buddhism, Judaism and other beliefs.
"I don't need to define myself to any community by putting myself in a box labeled Baptist or Catholic or Muslim," she said. "When I die, I believe all my accounting will be done to God, and that when I enter the eternal realm, I will not walk though a door with a label on it."
Younger people identify as spiritual but not religious more frequently than their older counterparts. In a 2009 survey by the research firm LifeWay Christian Resources, 72% of millennials (18- to 29-year-olds) said they are "more spiritual than religious."
The phrase is now so commonplace that it has spawned its own acronym ("I'm SBNR") and website: SBNR.org.
Traditionally the words "religious" and "spiritual" were closely linked, but over time the latter word began to describe an experience disconnected from the traditional confines of religion, particularly organized religion.
A widely discussed survey of adult Americans by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released in October found that the religiously unaffiliated both believe in God and define themselves as spiritual but not religious.
Sixty-eight percent of the religiously unaffiliated believe in God and 58% say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the Earth, in a spiritual way. Additionally, the study found 37% classify themselves as "spiritual" but not "religious" and 21% say they pray every day.
As expected, the practice of being spiritual but not religious has been roundly criticized by those who participate in organized religion. Jesuit priest James Martin told CNN in June that the phrase, "I’m spiritual but not religious," can boil down to egotism.
"Being spiritual but not religious can lead to complacency and self-centeredness," said Martin, an editor at America, a national Catholic magazine based in New York. "If it's just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demands on you, why help the poor?"
- CNN’s John Blake and Richard Greene contributed to this report
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
But how many percent of those who belongs to organized religion tends to be criminals and cause more harm to others than those who practice a different beliefs, Lets see The Crusades, Witch hunt and the never ending fight for Jerusalem. They do belong to organized religion right.
100,000,000 killed by atheist state-govts in just the last century. More than all the red-herrings you cited, combined!
OH, it's YOU, Turdy!
Motives play a role. Those were not red herrings since they were justified through religious doctrine (Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live remember?)
Just wonder why our prison system is mostly Christian inmates. I guess when you can always say "the devil made me do it" you have a scape goat.
...atheists who believe in some sort of higher power,...
Baloney! Anyone who believes in a "higher power" believes in a deity whether they will admit it or not.
This is not an issue of religiousity mhch less spirituality. It is all about sin and repentance. You want to seek God to heal your mind soul and body so that you can go on hurting him more, will mot work. Anything elas ethat does not rest on Christ
It's the same for "nerd," "racist," "hater," etc. First one to hurl those words is the BIGGEST one of all.
How to spot a troll.
Read a thread – the first person to call someone else a troll is themselves one!
Starting to really hate CNN for all of these anti-drug, or at least condescending-sounding articles toward drugs.
Don't worry – they're anti-gun and anti-conservative too. Chin up!
Amen to that Sharan, methinks they're nanny-statists.
They're also anti-Catholic, anti-religoius, anti-republican. They hate a lot of people. Hundreds of millions, to be exact.
Then why do you read here?
I am given a glimmer of hope that in your rejoinder to me, you did not deny the obvious truth of my claims about CNN's biases and sublte hatreds. There may be hope for you.
If your claims are accurate, then why are you here, Geraldine?
All I'm pointing out is what you will never read in a news story on this website. Atheists kill themselves (and others) more. Gays are more unhappy and narcissistic. The non-religious abuse drugs more and have more mental health problems.
Face facts and get on with your lives
You're pointing out absolutely nothing but horribly flawed studies to prop up your preconceptions and ignoring every valid criticism. I know it's hard, but honesty is preferrable to willful ignorance, so I suggest you start being honest.
@Aloha – you can refute the scientific studies all you want. It only makes you sound like a fundi Christian.
lol, please. Find a new hobby.
Okay troll, whatever you say.
Please provide source.
Quite to the contrary– atheists have had the lowest incidence of not only violent crime, but any crime at all for most of recorded history.
No identifications = peace.
This study is flawed, I don't do any sort of drugs, I don't have a religion and I am of sound mind. I would have to have an entire psichological profile of the one that conducted the study and his credentials, the amount of people involved in this study, age, country and their psychological profile as well. It is irresponsible and offensive to publish something so bogus. What about the large amount of religious fanatics that live with the delusion of an invisible being, this is a massive colective hysteria.
The Sky Fairy does not exist.
Get over it.
A big problem with psychology is that the researchers are so busy analyzing a tiny part of one tree with a microscope that they never see the whole tree – much less the whole forest.
It’s not even a true science. They make value-judgements, eg, they may judge someone who takes an LSD trip as being “ill”.
Therefore, all this back-and-forth arguing re their conclusions seems to me to be rather futile.
Maybe we shouldn't look to the shrinks for answers.....
In a 2010 Israeli study of 90 gay and 109 straight men with mean age of 26 and with no significant differences with respect to country of birth, ethnic origin, education level, military service, or participation in psychotherapy, gay young adults scored lower on the self-esteem measure and higher on narcissism compared to their straight counterparts.(2.)
This ought to get everyone in a PC tizzy!
What does orientation have to do with this topic?
2. Rubinstein, G. (2010). Narcissism and Self-Esteem Among [gay] and [straight] Male Students. Journal of [S_x] & Marital Therapy, 36:24–34.
That's quite a small sample size. And ethnicity, and area of origin would play a huge part. When a person who is gay grows up say in the bible belt, where they get a healthy dose of self-loathing heaped with more guilt than everyone else because they're gay would of course result in lower self esteem.
Do you have any concept of sample sizing and good methodology?
Hawaii – do you know how expensive in-person studies are compared to mail-in surveys?
So is Gerry one of the regular weirdos under a new name, or is this another attention-seeking poe?
What's your point? I gave you problems with the survey, and you come back with "oh it's expensive to do it another way". That merely shows that the people doing it cared more about cost than accuracy.
@aloha – that's because they're Jews!
Ok, now I know you're just a troll with nothing better to do but be stupid.
I'm a troll??? And what are you? A professional website conversationalist? Is this what you do for a living?
Are you? A professional, that is, Gerry?
A thought .How dose a man pray three times a day to GOD,Who dose not somke,drink,dose not do drugs.Sometimes the same day go out and kill children.Children are gifts from GOD.The spritual drug or drink is called pride.That is the wrrst one if an arch angel fell to it we have no chance it is an anglic matter.Jesus is LORD all others are thifes and robbers. Your friend in LORD JESUS CHRIST chris.
Did you recite all of this to set up a bad joke?
My, my, you are quite the little bigot.
Yes, I know you are a troll now.
As you said, insignificant information. Gay and Jew?...poor thing!
I hope my tax dollars weren't used for this dribble..........
Not unless you live in Britain.
There is likely a population bias in this study -The background of this study states that it was conducted because all research on this topic that existed prior to the study was done in America, where many aspects of the "spirituality movement" – for lack of a better term, is associated with practices linked to well-being – meditation, yoga, vegetarianism, non-processed and organic food consumption – things that tend to improve overall mental and physical health in general.
This study was conducted in the UK, which has a much larger percentage of Muslims (4.2% of the UK population as opposed to .08% of the population in the US) and Sikhs (3/4 of a percent as opposed to 1/4 of a percent int he US) , meaning you are likely to find a larger number of respondents in the survey who have never consumed alcohol or taken drugs, including prescription drugs in some cases, than you would in the US. The Muslim and Sikh faiths forbid consumption of alcohol and drugs. Judeo-Christian religions do not.
So, it seems as if there is a bit of comparing apples to oranges in this piece, in that the results of this study may not be applicable to people in the United States. As this study was to specifically to examine data NOT gathered in the US, I'd say its reasonable to think that the researchers probably knew it wouldn't be.
Like I said. Get angry. Rationalize. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
I thought Islam and Sikh were organized religions. The study was not about organized religions and left those out.
Really? You're arguing that there is a signigicant population bias due to 5% of the UK population being Muslim of Sikh?
That makes zero sense.
Sorry – "or"
I am not angry nor am I rationalizing. I am pointing out that this study was conducted in the UK because in the US, being "Spiritual" is associated with practices that are known to improve physical, mental and emotional health. in the UK, being "spiritual" does not mean the same thing. A person in the US may practice Yoga or be a vegetarian or vegan as part of their spirituality. This is culturally not the case in the UK. In the UK, being "spiritual" is more equatable to "not being part of a church or organized religion".
The larger Muslim and Sikh population IS a significant factor in the data collection for this study because a person who is Muslim or Sikh, when asked "do you or have you ever consumed alcohol, smoke or take drugs" are more likely to answer no because those things are forbidden by their religious practices. And, where the population of these religions per capita is higher, you are statistically likely to have more of them as part of any survey group than you are in the United States. Where Judeo Christians make up the larger portion of the population. Judeo-Christians do not forbid the consumption of alcohol, drugs or tobacco as part of their religious practice. The respondents of this survey whether or not they were religious prior to this study – their religious status and/or affiliation was a question in the interview. So, the researchers didn't know how many people they interviewed were or weren't part of a church until after the fact.
To put that another way. Out of every ten people in the US, you might have one Muslim in the group. In the UK, you might have 2. If you ask each member of this group of people if they have ever had an alcoholic drink, in the US group, it is likely that at least ONE of those ten people will say no. In the UK group, it is likely that at least TWO of those people will say no. When you report on the findings, the result will be out of all the people surveyed in the US, 90% of them drink alcohol, in the UK, only 80% of the people surveyed drink alcohol.
That is what I mean be a statistical bias. That, coupled with the fact that the researchers believe that the definition of Spiritual in the US and the UK differs enough that justified the collection of new data using only people in the UK as the data set, indicates that the results of this study MIGHT not be applicable to people in the US.
And, for future reference – all research studies have an inherent bias, that is why they are all peer reviewed before and after publication, to limit and/or identify as much of the bias as possible, but you can never get rid of all of it. Take anything that says Study" with a grain of salt. After all, the tobacco industry has been saying that there is no direct link between lung cancer and smoking for years. That is because no ethical scientist will ever say that there is a definitive link between any two events because it can never be definitively proven.
Ah! Found the study. Here it is for all you atheists hate themselves deniers"
Copy. Paste URL into bar. Read abstract. Get angry. Rationalize. Point out an unrelated fact about so-called religious people.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
I'm a Christian who also likes 60s psychedelia. I agree w/this article. Just read about bands like Jefferson airplane, Grateful Dead et al, and also read the lyrics to their songs – lots of non-religious soul-searching spiritual seeking.
I'd say it was more correlative than causual, but it's interesting nonetheless. Thanks for the link.
"Religious affiliation is associated with less suicidal behavior in depressed inpatients. After other factors were controlled, it was found that greater moral objections to suicide and lower aggression level in religiously affiliated subjects may function as protective factors against suicide attempts. Further study about the influence of religious affiliation on aggressive behavior and how moral objections can reduce the probability of acting on suicidal thoughts may offer new therapeutic strategies in suicide prevention."
So, for people who are already committed (ie: depressed inpatients) religiosity helps reduce suicide attempts. OK.
Being religious didn't help the control group from being depressed and committed.
Still nothing about your assertions on mental illness in general or drugs.
@GOP – This CNN article assert higher mental health and drug issues, not me. I only pointed out that in addition to those things – if they're true – atheists also have a higher suicide rate.
you appear to be having reading comprehension issues.
This survey says that the "spiritual but not religious" have issues – not atheists and agnostics. The study conclusion is: "People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder."
Please read the article again.
I have a few criticisms of that study.
For one, the sample size was 371 people, hardly a significant amount.
Second the religious affiliation of each individual at the time of each suicide is entirely relevant, yet is not addressed.
Third, when you are part of a religion (catholicism and protestanism the most prevalent, which was 69.5% of the 305/371 who professed religious affiliation) that teaches suicide will get you sent to hell, that would of course cause lower stats through fear.
@not a GOPer
Gerryis citing a study from 2004 that I have posted a few criticisms of. He's not talking about this study in the article because it doesn't show his presupposition that atheists have shitty lives.
not only that, but he has misinterpreted or misread the conclusions of the study and erroneously conflated 'spiritual but not religious' with atheists/agnostics.
it's true. ignorance is bliss.
It's just that people who are "spiritual but don't buy into organized religion" are more honest, and answer the questions more truthfully...
Actually, atheists also have higher rates of suicide. Mental health, drugs, suicide. The perfect trifecta!
Well Gerry, according to this survey those who are neither spiritual nor religious have the same incidence of mental disorders as the religious.
It's the spiritual but not religious who have issues.
Time for a fact check!
From the study published by the British Journal of Psychiatry:
"Religious people were similar to those who were neither religious nor spiritual with regard to the prevalence of mental disorders, ..."
Could fact check for you. Just saw the study about a month ago. Maybe 8 yrs old now. Done by psychiatrists. Not going to re-look for it now. You can do that yourself when you're pretending to work. But it is the conclusion of at least one peer-reviewed study.
So, no reference then.
Gerry, So a bit like the bible then. I say so, so believe it. You mentioned the "fact" but can't back it up.
Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation.
In Santa we trust
EAT IT AND WEEP.
Gerry posited: Mental health, drugs, suicide. The perfect trifecta!
You have evidence that people committed for depression attempt suicide less if they are religious. (Begs the question about the fact that there are religious depressed inpatients, but skipping over that) what about mental heath?
The British survey referenced by this topic finds that atheists and agnostics have no different incidence of mental disorders than the religious.
They lost me at "atheists who believe in some sort of higher power" the definition of the word atheism is not to believe in a god or higher power.
Really, that's all you get out of this.
You can't grapple with the notion that some people who don't believe in "God" might believe in a universal truth / karma / "the force" (if you will) and so also be considered part of the 'spiritual but not religious'?
Took the words from right out of my would-be post.
It depends how one would define higher power. Einstein regarded universal laws as a kind of higher power.
An atheist could technically believe in Karma. They'd be a whackjob, but an atheist nonetheless.
Religion is the opiate of the masses.
Atheism is the opiate of the masses!
I have been both religious and spiritual, but the truth is I was on a brink of a nervous breakdown until I stopped listening to the religious bs and turned to spirituality. Spirituality saved my life. I can make the comparison, not some religious professor doing a study.
No religious professors were involved in this study.
The study was published by the British Journal of Psychiatry.