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“God never promised us smooth sailing - just a safe harbour”

TWO REVOLUTIONS IN MENTAL HEALTH

“To effectively address mental illness, neural pathways need to shift” – Pieter Rossouw

Believe it or not, there are two revolutions ripping though mental health research at present that most people don’t know about. The first is neuroplasticity’s enriched environments and the second is faith ‘the forgotten factor’. Both of these new directions emphasize the importance of relationships, dialogue and discovery; with one another and God.

The latest neuroscience research emphasizes the importance of interactive enriched environments and relationships with ‘one another’ are essential for our mental health: 

“To effectively address mental illness, neural pathways need to shift. This capacity of the brain to change has been demonstrated with enriched environments – of which talking therapies are an important part… The role of relationships in changing neural connectivity and reshaping higher neural connections is indeed in line with Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel’s prediction in 1998 – the dawn of a ‘remarkable scientific revolution’ that will change the paradigm of understanding the brain for the 21st century”(Rosouw, 2013).

Faith has been referred to as ‘the forgotten factor’ and has been largely overlooked in mental health research. However, faith is back in mainstream research – and it’s turning many heads!

How does faith work? Through relationships with God and one another (i.e. the Bible’s 2 great commandments). A literature review of over 1200 studies (Miller & Thoresen, 2003) concluded that personal religious faith or spirituality is associated with numerous positive physical and mental health benefits. It is findings like these that have led David Myers, distinguished author of psychology textbooks used in universities world-wide, to conclude: 

“In some respects the links between religious faith and mental health are impressive – more so than many social scientists suspect. In America, religious people are much less likely to become delinquent, to abuse drugs and alcohol, to divorce or be unhappily married, or to commit suicide. Religiously active people even tend to be physically healthier and to live longer (up to 7 years!)”.  

PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE 

New directions in mental health now focus on personal growth not pathology. It identifies and nurtures people’s strengths and helps to create supportive relationships and communities (ie ‘enriched environments’ from a neuroplasticity perspective). Psychological research has found that there are six categories of strengths common to all cultures: wisdom and knowledge; courage; love and humanity; justice; temperance; and, spirituality and transcendence (Park, Seligman & Peterson, 2004).

Mental health no longer targets only specific ‘at-risk’ groups – everyone in the community is at risk! As discussed, one in five Australians will experience a mental illness within a 12-month period and almost half the population will experience a mental illness at some stage in their lives. Therefore, mental health policies around the world now target the general population and advocate mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention.