Mental Health and Other News

Today’s round-up of religious statistical news leads on some freshly-published research into spirituality and mental health. We also report on another survey about same-sex marriage and the Church of England (for other recent polls, see our posts of 13 and 17 December 2012), and on a New Year’s honour for Professor Linda Woodhead.

Spirituality and mental health

‘People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder’, according to findings newly published by a research group based at University College London. Of a sample of English adults studied, 35% claimed a religious understanding of life, 19% were spiritual but not religious, and 46% were neither religious nor spiritual (albeit 53% of all adults gave a nominal religious affiliation). Religious people were found to be similar to those who were neither religious nor spiritual with regard to the prevalence of mental disorders (except that the former were less likely to have ever used drugs or be a hazardous drinker), thereby contradicting some North American research which suggests that holding a religious understanding of life provides protection against mental disorders.

However, self-identified spiritual people were more likely than those who were neither religious nor spiritual to have ever used or be dependent on drugs, and to have abnormal eating attitudes, generalized anxiety disorder, any phobia or any neurotic disorder. They were also more likely to be taking psychotropic medication. Possible explanations for these relationships are not adequately explored by the researchers, including the option that some individuals may be drawn to ‘spirituality’ as a ‘cure’ or a ‘palliative’ for their mental health symptoms.

Source: Face-to-face interviews with 7,403 English adults aged 16 and over undertaken by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) between October 2006 and December 2007, as part of the third National Psychiatric Morbidity Study. Results analysed in Michael King, Louise Marston, Sally McManus, Terry Brugha, Howard Meltzer and Paul Bebbington, ‘Religion, Spirituality and Mental Health: Results from a National Study of English Households’, British Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 202, No. 1, January 2013, pp. 68-73.

The findings appear to support evidence from an earlier English survey of 4,281 members of black and minority ethnic groups on the vulnerability of people who describe themselves as spiritual; this was reported in Michael King, Scott Weich, James Nazroo and Robert Blizard, ‘Religion, Mental Health and Ethnicity: EMPIRIC – A National Survey of England’, Journal of Mental Health, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2006, pp. 153-62. The dataset and documentation for the 2006-07 study are available at the Economic and Social Data Service as SN 6379 and reveal that the core question asked was: ‘By “religion” we mean the actual practice of a faith … Some people do not follow a religion but do have spiritual beliefs or experiences. Some people make sense of their lives without any religious or spiritual beliefs. Would you say that you have a religious or a spiritual understanding of your life?’ The reply codes were religious, spiritual, and neither.      

Same-sex marriage

By a margin of two to one, the British public opposes the Government’s plans to prohibit the Church of England from conducting same-sex marriages in its places of worship, thereby also cocking a snook at those Anglican and (particularly) Roman Catholic leaders who used their Christmastide messages to oppose the whole concept of same-sex marriage.

Asked whether Church of England vicars should be allowed, if they wanted to, to offer religious marriage ceremonies to gay couples, 62% of Britons replied in the affirmative and 31% in the negative, with 7% uncertain. Gender variations were slight, albeit women (64%) were somewhat more in favour than men (60%). Age differences, however, were very pronounced. Among the under-45s almost three-quarters supported the right of clergy to solemnize same-sex marriages, but 50% of the over-65s were opposed, with just 38% in favour.  

Source: Telephone survey by ComRes for The Independent on 14-16 December 2012, in which 1,000 Britons aged 18 and over were interviewed. The detailed tabulations are not yet available on the ComRes website, but the main findings were reported in Andrew Grice’s article in the newspaper on 26 December 2012, which can be found at:

MBE for Linda Woodhead

Congratulations are in order to Linda Woodhead, Professor of the Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University, who was appointed MBE in the 2013 New Year’s Honours List, for services to higher education. In addition to her own impressive contribution to scholarship, and as a commentator and broadcaster on religion in the media, Linda directed the Religion and Society Programme between 2007 and 2012, funded to the tune of £12 million by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council, and involving 240 academics from 29 different disciplines (including the BRIN team). Lancaster University issued a press release about Linda’s award on 4 January 2013, which can be viewed at:


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