By Fr. Roy Cimagala

THIS IS a delicate topic. Each term is loaded with a lot of mysteries. Putting them together plunges us to even deeper mysteries.

And yet, any effort to seriously study the relation between the mind and the soul is most welcome, as it can give precious insights into these intangible realities that have great relevance on our lives today.

One such initiative is in the University of California Irvine (UCI) where a young psychiatrist, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty (akheriat@uci.edu), put up the Psychiatry and Spirituality Forum just over a year ago.

It is interesting to note that the forum has grown from 20 to 130 members, among them Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, rabbis, psychiatrists, scientists, physicians and social workers, indicating its rising following.

It is boldly entering into a largely unmapped territory that needs to be explored and understood better. It’s an initiative that has to be widely supported. The fine workings in the world of the mind and soul cannot be ignored anymore.

It cannot be denied that the issue of mental health is lately grabbing attention these past years. The WHO has attributed a third of all disability worldwide to psychiatric conditions and there are 800,000 reported cases of suicide yearly in the world.

This is not to mention that in many countries, no adequate medical programs are available for patients of this kind of illness. Thus, in China, for example, there are reports of the mentally ill chained and caged by their own parents at home.

It’s time that we tackle this issue as thoroughly as possible, burying myths that have stigmatized this human condition, and coming up with more pro-active attitudes and practices to help our brothers and sisters concerned.

My personal observation is that even locally, I see a dramatic rise of psychological cases who need not only medical attention but also spiritual guidance and nourishment.

We have to learn ways to cope with this situation. I just hope and pray that more people get into this field as experts and professional counselors, since a lot of things need to be done.

In an interview with MercatorNet, Dr. Kheriaty talks about many interesting details about the connection between mental health and spiritual convictions. To cite a few:

There seems to be a relationship between the rise of mental illness and the decline of religious observances.

Despite material and technological advances, cases of suicide, depression, substance abuse and other behavioral disorders are increasing. Social stigma keep these cases mostly hidden and unattended.

The attention given is mainly medical, leaving behind the psychological, social and spiritual factors. This situation has to be corrected.

Many psychiatrists now believe that religious belief and practice often reduce the incidence of suicide, substance abuse, impulsivity and violence. Religion often protects against despair and demoralization amid suffering, because it fosters hope and sense of one’s personal vocation.

Some mental illnesses are diseases in the strict sense, since they result from disordered biological or genetic factors that lie outside one’s control. These can be schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which cannot be prevented or cured through belief or will power alone.

Other illnesses may be due to such traits as low intelligence and other low personality traits that can be a product of genetic and environmental influences, trauma, terrifying life experiences, injuries to the brain.

Just the same it should be noted that in spite of biological, genetic and social causes, some amount of counseling on the psychological and spiritual levels is most welcome and helpful. This wholistic approach should be developed.

Strengthening the spiritual life of people in general contributes well to mental health. It gives a sense of stability, since it gives meaning, purpose and perspective to all elements in life, especially the problems and difficulties. It enhances serenity and joy, crucial for our mind to work well.

A culture of caring for one another has to be developed to include a certain sensitivity to building up mental health of everyone. We need to clarify the doctrine, values and practices we have, and rectify those that tend to weaken it.

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