As communities across the world grapple with a growing mental health crisis, a new report on faith and wellness highlights the value of looking to spirituality for innovative solutions.

The report from Gallup and the Radiant Foundation calls attention to a wide range of studies showing a positive correlation between practices like prayer and meditation and improved health outcomes.

Researchers conclude that there’s a clear link between spirituality and well-being, even if more work must be done to understand how best to respond to that fact.

“Mental health struggles touch people in every nation, and with more needing help every day, it is critical to consider all possible approaches. This includes thinking about how to incorporate spirituality into the list of tools that can be used,” the report says.

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Researchers noted that this work will be complicated by rising animosity toward organized religion. It’s unfortunate that health experts are becoming more aware of the relationship between spirituality and well-being just as religious practices are becoming less popular, they said.

The good news is that introducing (or reintroducing) people to the power of spirituality can be as simple as helping them download a new app on their phone.

Apps that prompt you to pray, meditate or do yoga can connect people to the benefits of spirituality without disrupting or challenging their established faith-related beliefs and routines, said Jennifer Huberty, chief science officer for the Skylight app, during an Oct. 4 press briefing.

Faith and wellness

The new report on faith and wellness from Gallup and the Radiant Foundation draws on dozens of studies that have been conducted in recent years. Researchers identified the untapped potential of spiritual practices by reviewing existing literature and interviewing health experts.

Through their analysis, researchers determined that spiritual practices can improve both individual and societal well-being by:

  • Helping individuals develop a sense of purpose and positive coping skills.
  • Creating social connections.
  • Increasing community and civic engagement.
  • Leading individuals to feel more secure and stable.
  • Enabling institutions to better promote a holistic view of health.

These findings likely sound familiar if you follow health or religion reporting. It’s long been established that people who are engaged in a religious community enjoy certain health benefits, like reduced risk of substance abuse.

Just this year, the United States surgeon general presented religious involvement as an antidote to loneliness, as the Deseret News previously reported.

“Religious or faith-based groups can be a source for regular social contact, serve as a community of support, provide meaning and purpose, create a sense of belonging around shared values and beliefs, and are associated with reduced risk-taking behaviors,” Vivek Murthy wrote in a report released in May.

The significance of the new Gallup and Radiant Foundation report is that it brings multiple studies into conversation with each other to clear up any lingering doubt that spiritual practices can — and often do — boost practitioners’ well-being.

“While the connection between religion, spirituality and well-being is widely recognized, there are still uncharted territories requiring deeper investigation,” said Ilana Ron-Levey, Gallup’s managing director for the public sector, in a statement. “Many individuals may not fully appreciate the positive impact that spiritual life and practices can have on their mental and physical well-being, and this study further uncovers the complex interplay between spirituality and well-being across countries and regions.”

Those involved in the report’s production hope it serves as a call-to-action for organizations affected by and worried about rising rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Organizational leaders can make a difference for their employees and others by making them aware of or even providing spiritual resources, according to Gallup and the Radiant Foundation.

Gallup is a global analytics and advising firm. The Radiant Foundation, which, like the Deseret News, is part of Deseret Management Corp., is working to cultivate a more positive place for faith in modern culture.

How to become more spiritual

The new report on spirituality and wellness was made public Monday in London at a conference on global health called the Wellbeing Forum.

That’s also where Huberty presented new research on the Skylight app, which is an initiative of the Radiant Foundation. The goal of the app is to connect young people with spiritual resources and the corresponding health benefits, she said during the press briefing ahead of Monday’s event.

By speaking with Skylight users, Huberty found real-life examples of the kind of outcomes researchers predicted in the report from Gallup and the Radiant Foundation. Frequent users of the app, which provides videos on meditation, yoga, affirmations and other spiritual practices, felt less anxious than their peers.

One of the strengths of an app like Skylight is that its additive, Huberty said. In other words, it can be integrated into someone’s existing spiritual routines or serve as a baby step into the realm of religion and spirituality.

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The app and others like it appeal to young people who are actively seeking out resources related to self-care. They may be less likely than members of older generations to attend church or a Bible study, but they’re typically more open to practices like mindfulness meditation, Huberty said.

This interest in spirituality is “an untapped resource” in the mental health crisis affecting young people today, she said.

“Let’s offer (young people) more opportunities to participate in spiritual practices and see what happens to the mental health epidemic,” Huberty added.

The Skylight spiritual self-care app is available on Apple’s App Store and on Google Play. Its videos on spiritual practices can also be found on the Skylight website.

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