Friday, May 1, 2009

New Poll Results: Faith and Spirituality in Our Recovery

"How important is faith/spirituality in your recovery?" I asked readers here during the month of April.

Of the 200 of you who responded, nearly half (46 percent) rated "faith or belief in God" as a major part of your recovery. One in five (20 percent) regarded "spirituality" in the same light. In other words, a full two thirds of you (66 percent) regard your faith or spirituality as essential to your wellness. When we add another 12 percent who assigned a modest role to faith/spirituality, we are talking in terms of nearly eight in ten (78 percent).

Only 16 percent of you said faith/spirituality plays no role in your recovery while a mere handful of you (5 percent) thought faith/spirituality was an impediment to your recovery.

What to make of this? The two-thirds figure compares favorably to the eight in ten figure from an earlier poll result concerning the importance you assign to your meds. There is a crucial distinction, however: The faith/spirituality poll was framed in terms of RECOVERY while the meds poll was framed in relation to TREATMENT.

This distinction is crucial in regard to how we triangulate both these polls to yet an earlier poll that found only 14 percent of you reported that you were well. In light of that finding, I did not hesitate to suggest that your meds have let you down. Am I justified in coming to the same conclusion in terms of your faith and spirituality?

Not quite, no, definitely not. Treatment and recovery are like apples and oranges. In the treatment phase, our meds are doing all the heavy lifting, and we expect them to work. In the recovery phase, we know that relying on just one thing is not going to get the job done.

There have been a number of studies that convincingly demonstrate that people of faith recover more quickly from a variety of illness than their non-faith counterparts. But we're not talking knock-my-socks-off numbers. These are modest gains, precentage-wise, in the low single digits.

For our recovery to move forward, we need to incorporate our modest gains into other modest gains. The recovery literature is full of useful advice on reframing our thoughts, stress-reduction, improving our interpersonal skills, peer support, and working on smart lifestyle choices. Lately, mindfulness has been enjoying flavor-of-the month status.

It's a crowded field. We have a lot to choose from. So here's the significance of this month's poll result as I see it: Notwithstanding all the choices in our recovery we have, not withstanding all the attention commentators have devoted to these other choices, a full two-thirds of you assigned major importance to faith/spirituality.

Clearly, the people who are working with us in our recovery need to know this.

Why is faith/spirituality so vital to you? I'm guessing here, but I think it may have a lot to do with how well belief in something greater than ourselves blends with and enhances the benefits of our other recovery tools. Thus, maybe you pray to God to get you through the last phase of a strenuous physical workout. Conversely, maybe when you practice mindfulness you become aware of a higher presence, which in turn motivates you to get through the day. On and on it goes.

Finally, for most of us, faith and spirituality is a no-brainer. We've grown up with it. We're comfortable with it. So, when we finally start thinking about our own recovery, we are not contending with learning a new skill that may not be a good fit for us. Faith and spirituality is something we can incorporate into our recovery right now, with positive benefits. An overwhelming number of you - eight in ten - have told me you've already done that.


Anonymous said...

Has there ever been any data collected indicating the relative percentage of bipolar individuals as part of the "Evangelical Christian" group compared to the overall percentages of the population?

John McManamy said...

Hi, Anonymous. My quick searches came up with nothing. My guess is that there would be a higher percentage of bipolar Evangelical Christians for similar reasons that I would guess more bipolars in other religions.

Mind you, bipolar has nothing to do with why most bipolars subscribe to faith. In other words, they have the same reasons for believing in God as the rest of the population.

But then there are other factors: Crisis is conducive to people turning to religion. So are different varieties of inner personal experience. Our brains are certainly wired for both.

By the same token, I suspect bipolars are quick to move on, once the initial effect wears off. This happens in the general population, too, but I suspect bipolars "journey" more extensively in their spiritual journeys than others.

Anonymous said...

when I study the word and pray, my depression is more under control. I experience calmness and less anxiety and focus on the positive things. since I pray that God delivers me from my "depression and evil". when i stop seeking the Lord, then I feel more depressed and tend to focus more on the negative things.

Anonymous said...

this is more rhetorical, not trying to embarrass previous "Anonymous", but...
do you have a sin that, when temptation is aroused, makes you ashamed to look to God? If so, it'll be a fence between you and God, and if you terminate that (if it's there), then it should make it a lot easier to flow into constant peace in God