A recent ‘concept mapping’ of complementary and alternative medicine identified eight relevant cluster, among them “Self-assessment, Self-care, and Quality of Life” which addresses also the role of spirituality in individuals’ lives [1
]. Interestingly, individuals who would describe themselves as ‘spiritual and religious’ seem to use more often CAM approaches from the field of body-mind therapies in general, while ‘religious’ individuals are disinclined to use CAM [2
]. In cancer survivors, Mao et al.
found that increased spiritual importance was associated with CAM usage [3
This unique topic ‘spirituality’ gained lot of attention during the last decades, particularly in conventional medicine, and thus it was evident to ask for clinical relevance of specific issues associated with spirituality and/or religiosity.
There are an increasing number of studies which indicate that patients with an explicit religious attitude or high spiritual well-being had lower depression and anxiety, or lower final despair [4
]. Particularly in hospice patients with advanced cancer, most experienced their religious faith as an important source of comfort and strength [12
]. In fact, spirituality/religiosity may be used to relieve stress, retain a sense of control and maintain hope and sense of meaning and purpose in life [13
]. Moreover, spirituality/religiosity can be identified as a relevant coping strategy to deal with chronic stressors, even in a more secular society [14
However, in a previous study enrolling female cancer patients recruited in East-Germany [16
], intrinsic religiosity, as measured with the scale Reliance on God’s Help
(RGH), neither correlated with depression and anxiety (as measured with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale; HADS: r < 0.01) nor with fatigue (as measured with the Cancer Fatigue Scale, CFS-D: r < 0.01), and correlated only weakly with SF-12’s mental health component (r = −0.13). Also, in other German individuals, intrinsic religiosity was not associated with the mental health component of the SF-12 [20
]. Of course one has to keep in mind that patients may be acutely engaged in specific religious practices as a reactive resource in times of need (i.e.
, praying, church attendance, meditation etc.
), but not necessarily all the time during long-term courses of chronic illness. One could argue that most patients investigated in the respective studies have different courses of disease have different intensities of specific religious engagement, and were recruited in societies with different cultural backgrounds. Moreover, depressive symptoms in patients with advanced states of malignant disease are not necessarily psychiatric disorders.
A main argument refers to different underlying definitions of the multi-shaded concepts spirituality and religiosity on the one hand, and different measures of these constructs on the other hand [21
]. When talking about spirituality/religiosity, one has to differentiate specific religious beliefs, spiritual well-being, and specific practices, either within a specific institutional context or highly individual approaches. Correctly, Harold G. Koenig raised concerns about measuring spirituality in research: Spirituality was traditionally “a subset of deeply religious people”, while today it is “including religion but expanding beyond it” [22
]. In fact, spirituality is often understood today as a broader and also changing concept which may overlap with secular concepts such as humanism, existentialism, and probably also with specific esoteric views [21
The specific nature of the relationships between religious involvement and depressive symptoms remains to be clarified. An older review from 1999 would support the notion that religious involvement and intrinsic religious motivation are modestly associated with lower risk for depressive symptoms or disorders, while private religious activities and specific beliefs are not [23
In contrast, a recent study enrolling primary care elders found that non-organizational, private religious involvement was associated with depressive symptoms [10
]. In depressive elderly, Koenig and co-workers observed that “intrinsic religiosity was independently related to time to the remission of depressive disorders”, while “church attendance and private religious activities” were not [7
Thus, the evidence seems also to depend on the population investigated, and the respective measures, i.e., religious/spiritual attitudes and practices. We thus intended to investigate whether German in-patients with either depressive and/or addictive disorders rely on this specific resource, and focused on circumscribed variables of intrinsic religiosity (i.e., Reliance on God’s Help, RGH). Here, we analyzed putative associations between patients’ RGH, their depressive symptoms, life satisfaction and internal adaptive coping strategies.
In German in-patients we found that patients with addictive disorders had significantly higher RGH than patients with depressive disorders; their mean RGH scores would rather indicate that this resource was of lower relevance to them. Whether patients have high or low RGH, their BDI scores did not significantly differ. Similarly, patients with either high or low BDI scores did not significantly differ with respect to their RGH.
The RGH scale addresses patients’ trust in a higher helping power, an awaiting belief that “God will help”, that faith is used as a resource “even in hard times”, and involves a actional (“praying to become healthy again”) and a behavioral component aiming to “live in accordance with my religious convictions”. Patients’ mean RGH scores showed a large variability which is not simply due to gender effects, or could be fully explained by patients’ religious denomination or an underlying depressive disease.
In healthy individuals within their 60th
years of age, we observed RGH scores of 53 ± 35, in patients with chronic diseases (and similar age) RGH scores of 53 ± 34, and in patients with cancer (and similar age) RGH scores of 59 ± 34 [20
]. Thus, the RGH scores observed in the younger patients investigated herein are obviously lower (46 ± 34) and may indicate that intrinsic religiosity is not a strong resource to them, at least for patients with depressive disorders. On the other hand, those patients with high RGH had in trend lower Escape from Illness
(which is a depressive escape-avoidance strategy), higher life satisfaction, and higher internal coping strategies (i.e
., Reappraisal: Illness as a Chance
, which describes the ability to view illness as a chance to reflect and to change attitudes and behavior, and Conscious Living
and Positive Attitudes
). This means, although patients may suffer from their depressive/addictive symptoms, they seem to have access to positive (internal) strategies to cope—particularly those with high RGH.
A crucial point in the treatment of patients with depressive states is their motivation and how they may use their specific beliefs to deal with illness [30
]. In case of patients with depressive states investigated herein, one may assume at least two relevant aspects to explain the findings: (1) a generally low interest in institutional religiosity found in Germany (i.e
., 40–50% of German patients with chronic diseases do not regard themselves as religious [15
], and (2) low abilities and/or motivation to use spirituality as a resource because of their depressive state (in fact, they are in-patients with already diagnosed depressive disorders). So far we have not evidence that their intrinsic religiosity may or may not have influenced the development of their depressive and/or addictive problems.
It would be of importance to analyze these associations not only in Christian societies, but also in other religious traditions. Data from other societies which would fit to our findings came from North India. The authors reported that patients with either high or low religiosity did not significantly differ with respect to depression as measured with the BDI, Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and Beck Hopelessness Scale [31
]. Also in Polish individuals (which are almost all Christians), depressive and non-depressive subgroups did not differ with respect to their religious engagement [32
]. Moreover, Pokorski & Warzecha stated that “religiosity failed to influence the intensity of depressive symptoms or the strategy of coping with stress in either subgroup, although a trend was noted for better health expectations with increasing religious engagement in depressive subjects” [32
]. A study from Switzerland investigating the relationship between psychopathology and religious commitment in psychiatric patients and healthy subjects found that there were no correlations between neuroticism and religiosity, while religious commitment was positively associated with life satisfaction [33
]. Pfeifer & Waelti concluded that it “is not their personal religious commitment but their underlying psychopathology” [33
These findings may support our results enrolling German patients. The note that better health expectations were found in patients with higher religious engagement could fit to our results that higher RGH was associated with higher scores for internal adaptive coping strategies. Nevertheless, these data are in contrast with findings from the USA. A recent study enrolling psychiatric individuals found that “less severe depression was related to more frequent worship attendance, less religiousness, and having had a born-again experience” [34
]. The crucial point is that in secular societies particularly worship attendance is of low relevance at all [35
] and that “born-again experiences” are rarely found in conventional populations. Moreover, one could also argue that patients within severe depressive states are not able to see “some light” (religion) within their “darkness” (depression), while patients with mild depression may have an easier access to this resource.
An important statement came from Miller and co-workers [36
] who followed longitudinally adult offsprings of depressed and non-depressed parents. Their major finding was that self-reported importance of spirituality/religiosity had a “protective effect against recurrence of depression, particularly in adults with a history of parental depression”, while neither religious attendance nor denomination had a significant predictive effect [36
]. This means, the importance a person may ascribe to its spiritual attitude could be of relevance. It is obviously not regular church attendance which is preventing depression, but it could be that the intrinsic attitude to value the own spirituality as a resource to deal with life concerns and illness is the crucial variable—and this attitude, particularly when it is strong, can be associated in those with strong religious beliefs with church attendance and praying too.
However, this attitude cannot be prescribed; whether spirituality/religiosity can be used as a reliable resource is depending on the individuals’ (positive or negative) experience, their expectations, and of course their world-view. It was of importance that particularly the patients’ ability to view illness as a ‘chance’ to reflect and change attitudes and behavior was associated with intrinsic religiosity. Similar findings were observed in patients with cancer [37
] and chronic pain conditions [17
]. This unique point of view could be fostered during treatment of patients with depressive and/or addictive disorders, and patients’ spirituality (either religious or secular) could be a supporting resource. Moreover, because ‘punishment / guilt’ and ‘weakness / failure’ were not associated with intrinsic religiosity [17
], there is a rationale that less strict and fundamental religious views might be appropriate to support patients’ struggle with disease and relapse.