Three days ago, I stumbled upon an article by the Telegraph titled ''Spiritual' people at higher risk of mental health problems', written by the paper's medical correspondent, Stephen Adams. In the article, Adams writes about a study done by University College London's professor Michael King on 7,403 randomly selected men and women in England who were questioned about their spiritual and religious beliefs, and mental state. King's conclusion:

"[...]people who had a spiritual understanding of life had worse mental health than those with an understanding that was neither religious nor spiritual."

I read the article, noticed the limited research and the even more limited details that made it into the article and I dismissed both the research and the article. I moved on. I wasn't going to write about it at all... yet it has not let me go, and so I must write about it, in the hope of getting it out of my system.

My biggest problems with the article is that it only relates the 'highlights' of the study; for one, it doesn't give a definition of 'spiritual', nor does it mention which religions qualified as religions within the range of this study; something of importance to the Pagan community which (potentially) supplies people from all three categories of this study. I would be very interested to see if there were any Pagans in the sampling at all; the article mentions that the research let the participants categorized themselves as non-religious, spiritual, or religious. The author goes on to say that those who label themselves as 'religious', "attended a church, mosque, synagogue or temple'. I know a lot of religious Pagans--myself included--who don't visit any of these places for worship. Of course, any detail from the study beyond the few random grabs from the conclusion would help to give more legitimacy to the article.

As for the study itself; needless to say I have some issues. For one; a study with such a broad and potentially far-reaching conclusion, the research sample sure is a little small. Just shy of 7,500 people is a considerable sample size, but without a proper break-up of the various ages, socio-economic backgrounds, religions, etc., all I can think is that 'England'--the central and southern part of the island of Great Britain--is a very homogenous sampling. Now, perhaps, the researchers did specify that their research was only applicable to England itself, but if not, a comparable sample from other (wester, if you so desire) countries would not have been amiss. Also, from the article, the research claims a pretty sold causality between spirituality and mental disorders, but doesn't look at a reversed causality, or even any other factors that might lead to a higher risk of mental disorder. It's like saying that people who like the color blue have a higher disposition towards mental illness, because the research showed that that was the favorite color of the people with these illnesses. 

I would love to have a look at the full research; see what the researches really meant and how they came to it. If anyone knows where to find it, I would love to be linked to it. 

As it stands, I can only place one more note: a worry and raised eyebrow at Pagan media who pick this up as 'evidence' that religion is 'better than' spirituality. Look, I'll be the first to say that I want to believe (in) this research; everyone wants validation. Yet, I know some atheist and 'spiritual but not religious' people who are some of the sanest, and happiest, people I have ever known. I also know religious people who are unhappy every day of their life, who fight against mental illness on a daily basis. For me, religion offers a framework for my life that--most certainly--keeps me sane. It gives me the strength to fight through the hard times, and gives me daily moments of pleasure and gratitude. This research changes the lives on none of these people, including mine, and if anyone wants it to have a bigger impact than it has, the researchers needs to release more details, and above all, redo the research with a far larger, broader, and more widespread, sample size. 

In writing this, I hope to have put it out of my mind for once and for all. Sorry for the Hellenismos-break.