The Hidden Brain

Our unconscious biases.

Does Religion Harm or Help Recovery from Schizophrenia?

Can God Help You With Your Delusions?

Religiosity appears to be linked to better outcomes for people who suffer from schizophrenia, a debilitating disorder that affects both the ability to think as well as the ability to form meaningful personal relationships.

New research by Carl I. Cohen, Carolina Jimenez and Sukriti Mittal and others compared the religiosity of people suffering from schizophrenia with the religiosity of people who were mentally healthy, as well as outcomes for patients who were and were not religious. They found that fewer people with schizophrenia were religious than those in the general community, but that patients who were religious had better outcomes than patients who did not practice religion.

I think this research ought to be of interest regardless of whether one is a believer: If religious belief is indeed helpful in treating schizophrenia, it ought to be one of the tools used by clinicians. Doctors don’t have to tell patients to become religious if they are not religious, but they can certainly encourage people to practice their faith if they happen to be believers. Since psychology and psychiatry tend to have the largest number of non-believers among science/medical professions, this may be an intervention that is often overlooked.

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One of the chapters in my book The Hidden Brain, which is just out in paperback by the way, talks at length about the relationship between the hidden brain and mental disorders – it’s called “Tracking The Hidden Brain: How Mental Disorders Reveal Our Unconscious Lives.” I would highly recommend the chapter if you haven’t read it. I also wrote a series of articles for the Washington Post some years ago exploring the effects of different aspects of culture on mental disorders. One of the articles explored the curious phenomenon that people with schizophrenia happen to have better outcomes in poor countries than in rich countries. Could that be because, among other things, that people who live in poor countries tend to be more religious than those who live in rich countries?

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Shankar Vedantam is a science reporter with National Public Radio and a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

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