National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NAMI FaithNet Newsletter: December 2011

In This Issue:

  • Research Indicates That Practicing One’s Faith May Dramatically Improve Health and Quality of Life
  • NAMI FaithNet 2011: A Year of Accomplishment

Research Indicates That Practicing One’s Faith May Dramatically Improve Health and Quality of Life

by Branko Radulovacki, M.D., Psychiatrist and FaithWorks Founder

FaithWorks’ annual “Family, Faith and Mental Health Conference” held on November 17, 2011 in Atlanta featured Harold Koenig, M.D., an internationally-recognized expert on the effect of spirituality on health, as its keynote speaker. The conference explored the effects of faith on physical and emotional health, as well as mental well-being.   

According to Dr. Koenig, Director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University, many people are religious and highly value the spiritual aspects of life. For them, and even for those who don’t currently consider themselves religious, spirituality holds the promise of providing protection from health problems, helping them cope with problems they face and, possibly, influencing their remission.   

Dr. Koenig referred to the Handbook of Religion and Health, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2011) as a valuable resource for those interested in quantitative research on this broad topic. It summarizes all studies published in peer-reviewed academic/scientific journals in the English language, from 1872-2010. This comprehensive resource lists approximately 2,000 studies, many of which focus on mental health.

The research Dr. Koenig discussed focused specifically on religion’s effect on emotional disordersdepression, suicide and substance use, well-being and happiness (defined in terms of meaning, purpose and hope, as well as the traits of forgiveness, altruism, gratitude and compassion), social health/support, social capital and marital stability.

He said that in terms of its effect on depression, religious involvement correlates with less depression and faster recovery from depression in 272 of 444 quantitative studies (61 percent). More depression was noted in only 6 percent of all studies. Religious involvement also correlates to fewer suicides, and more negative attitudes toward suicide, in 106 of 141 studies (75 percent). And, studies consistently reveal less alcohol use, abuse and/or dependence among those practicing their religious beliefs in 240 of 278 studies (86 percent).

Seventy-two percent of published research documents a greater sense of well-being and happiness for those involved with religion (256 of 356 studies).Specifically, religious involvement is related to significantly greater meaning and purpose in life in 42 of 45 studies (93 percent), significantly greater hope (29 of 40 studies, 73 percent), and significantly greater optimism (26 of 32 studies, 81 percent). These measures of well-being are concurrent with significantly more forgiveness (34 of 40 studies, 85 percent), significantly more altruism/volunteering (33 of 47 studies, 70 percent), and significantly more gratitude, compassion and kindness (8 of 8 studies, 100 percent).

Additionally, religious involvement correlates to significantly greater social support (61 of 74 studies, 82 percent) and in greater marital stability (68 of 79 studies, 86 percent).

Therefore, almost 150 years of quantitative research indicates that practicing one’s faith may dramatically improve both health and quality of life. How should we respond to these findings? Dr. Koenig said (only half-jokingly) that providers consider prescribing religion to their patients.  He then concluded that we should share this information with both mental health providers and with clergy. Educating these key groups about the important role religion and faith can play in enhancing well-being and mental health will enable them to care for others more effectively. We should also look for ways to encourage mental health advocacy groups, such as NAMI, to use this information to build and enhance partnerships with mental health providers and faith communities.

Founded in 2008, FaithWorks was created to galvanize a meaningful response to Georgia’s state mental health crisis. The mission of FaithWorks is to unite a proactive, faith-powered body and lead way toward a better quality of life for those with mental and/or addictive illnesses and their families through education, innovation and championing effective solutions to intractable problems.

NAMI FaithNet 2011: A Year of Accomplishment

by Katrina Gay, Director of Communications, NAMI

It is the time of year when we often review our activities to reflect on our annual goals and mark our progress, all the while processing any challenges and celebrating what we hope are our successes. It is also the time of year when we consider a gift to the causes that mean the most to us. This year, on behalf of NAMI FaithNet, I encourage you to consider a donation to NAMI.

NAMI FaithNet has much to celebrate and also recognizes how much more there is to do. With the guidance and efforts of the NAMI FaithNet Advisory Group and the generosity of many, we simultaneously look back at 2011 and forward to 2012, measuring our movement towards meeting the NAMI FaithNet mission—to serve as an information resource initiative for NAMI members, friends, clergy and congregations of all faith traditions who wish to create faith communities who are welcoming and supportive of persons and families living with mental illness. As an initiative of NAMI, NAMI FaithNet is dedicated to providing and promoting the creation and exchange of information, tools and other resources which will help NAMI members and friends educate faith communities about mental illness and the vital role spirituality plays in recovery for many.

Here is a summary of our efforts this year:

  • NAMI FaithNet e-newsletter. This now monthly e-newsletter has one of the highest subscription rates of any of our e-newsletters with nearly 20,000 subscribers. Each month, we strive to feature a story/insight from one of our Advisory Group members or from a local NAMI Affiliate leader—this helps us showcase grassroots ingenuity and inspire others within the NAMI network. In addition, we feature a story or item from the news or from within the larger faith community. This publication is the anchor of NAMI FaithNet and serves to promote the resources on the NAMI FaithNet website as well as individual efforts.
  • NAMI National Convention Offerings. Each year, the NAMI FaithNet Advisory Group takes lead on presenting a networking session as well as a top-notch workshop or other session at the NAMI National Convention. NAMI FaithNet strives to promote all faith-based sessions through exhibit space, the e-newsletter, within the local community and digitally through our e-communications and social networking channels. Last year’s sessions at the NAMI National Convention in Chicago were “standing room only” and among our most popular.
  • NAMI FaithNet Advisory Group. The current composition of the group includes Carole Wills (Ind.), Chair; Gunnar Christianson (Calif.); Craig Rennebohn (Wash.); Susan Gregg-Schroeder (Calif.); Tom Lambert (Ill.); and Sonja Starr (Md.) Sonja joined the Advisory Group this year to help us move closer to meeting our goal of diversity in our efforts; she is a Rabbi representing the Jewish faith. This group meets each year in-person to review progress from the previous year and set goals and objectives for the coming year. They then meet via conference call each month to proceed with the development of strategies and tactics to progress those goals. They are a wonderful volunteer group who work tirelessly to guide NAMI’s efforts through NAMI staff activities.
  • Reaching Out to Faith Communities and Bridges of Hope. These two initiatives were both launched and/or developed in 2011.

    Reaching Out to Faith Communities is a four-part training curriculum provided by NAMI FaithNet to encourage and equip NAMI members to engage with and share their story and NAMI resources with local faith groups.

    Reaching Out to Faith Communities is offered via power point and intended for self-study while viewing with the ‘notes’ function. While the four sections are designed to be used consecutively and as a whole, they each can be studied independently. In addition, the material is also presented via a two-part webinar series. Support documents referenced in the curriculum are also included. Although this is a web-based tool, the modules have also been presented in 2011 via two webinars and at a NAMI National Convention workshop.

    The second initiative of 2011, Bridges of Hope,is a presentation tool intended to create stronger connections and safety nets for people living with mental illness in and through faith communities. Bridges of Hope is a three-part power point presentation, about 60-90 minutes in length with speaker notes. The timing depends on the speaker’s pace and amount of dialogue that is encouraged by the facilitator. It can be used in its entirety, or in sections, depending on the audience’s familiarity with the subject matter and time allotment.

    These two initiatives are featured on the NAMI FaithNet section of the NAMI website.

  • Grassroots Mini Grants. Our current initiative of the year is the launch of our mini grant initiative. This month, we will be awarding $200 grants to NAMI Affiliates to support their faith outreach efforts. We expect to provide 12-15 grants and technical assistance via access to the Advisory Group’s wisdom as well as NAMI staff support to NAMI Affiliates with multiple objectives in mind: (1) promote and support grassroots activity; (2) encourage innovation; (3) expand the faith outreach network; (4) promote and receive feedback on the Reaching Out and Bridges of Hope modules to help refine them; (5) expand visibility and market efforts via promotion of these efforts at the NAMI National Convention, in the NAMI FaithNet newsletter and via national conference call initiatives in 2012.
  • Staffing and Technical Assistance. And finally, we are able to support staffing of these initiatives including time and leadership support as well as staffing assistance from the communications team, the Web team and the NAMI HelpLine.  

It is the generous financial contributions from individuals and family foundations that support this activity. Without this financial support, we simply would not be able to provide these services and support these efforts. NAMI FaithNet is making a difference in the lives of many individuals affected by mental illness. As we consider our year-end gifts and the many causes that compete for our attention this season, I encourage you to consider a contribution to NAMI to allow us to continue this important work.

On behalf of the NAMI FaithNet Advisory Group, thank you and have a blessed holiday season.

NAMI FaithNet respects all faith beliefs. It also recognizes the expression by the majority of those affected by mental illness of the importance of the role of their spirituality in their ability to cope with an illness themselves or in caring for an ill friend or family member.