How Religion Helps Your Brain
While the response to mental illness from within the Christian community hasn’t always been the best, the Church often gets portrayed in an excessively bad light. There are many who will even try to tell you that organized religions like Christianity are outright bad for your mental health. They couldn’t be more wrong.
It is true that improper response to mental illness within the community can be damaging or even traumatic to someone struggling with the illness, the same can be said for how many institutions in the public act when confronted with mental health problems. However, few of those organizations can say they have been scientifically linked to better mental health.
As Discovery News highlights, several studies have tied religious activity with everything from reduced stress to improved memory retention.
One of the most recent studies was published in JAMA Psychiatry in December of 2013. It showed that people at higher risk of depression were far less vulnerable if they identified as religious. This was even shown physically as Brain MRIs showed the religious participants had thicker brain cortices than those who weren’t as religious. People with a family history of depression tend to have a thinning of the cortices that religion has helped to slow or stop.
The community found within the Church also has its benefits. The social element of attending religious services has also been associated with healthy brains.
“There’s something magical about socializing,” Dr. Majid Fotuhi said. Fotuhi is the founder and chief medical officer of NeurExpand, as well as a lecturer at Harvard Medical School. “It releases endorphins in the brain. It’s hard to know whether it’s through religion or a gathering of friends, but it improves brain health in the long term. And it’s also been shown that people who are introverted and don’t participate are more likely to get Alzheimer’s.”
It is hard to tell what the key to the health benefits is, but no matter what the study shows that steadfast religious belief is ultimately more good for mental health than anything.