The connection between schizophrenia and religion is not well understood. But your culture and religious outlook might positively or negatively affect your symptoms.
Religion and spirituality are important parts of life for many individuals. It can bring people together into a community of like-minded individuals. It can help guide important decisions. Indeed, religion can contribute to many elements of daily life.
The relationship between religion and schizophrenia is not well understood. Limited data gives researchers and doctors some understanding of how religion can help people with this mental health condition. But it’s not yet clear why religion is helpful for some people — and why it may be harmful for others.
In this article, we’ll learn more about the connection between religion and schizophrenia, including how to talk with a doctor or mental health professional about your expectations of religion and spirituality. Plus, learn how religion may affect your treatment choices and outlook if you have received a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Research that looks at the role of religion in the lives of people with schizophrenia is limited. A few small studies shed some light on the connection.
Some data published in 2006 from a Swiss study suggests that people with chronic psychosis (a common feature of schizophrenia) might be more religious than the average population. The study involved 100 people in a mental health outpatient facility. The researchers found that most of the participants had a high level of spirituality and engaged in individual religious activities.
In an even earlier 2004 research review, one-third of Swiss participants with schizophrenia were highly involved in a religious community or affiliation. An additional one-third said that spirituality played a significant role in their lives.
Because these studies took place in Switzerland, it’s helpful to know that nearly 71% of Swiss people identified with a religion, as of data from 2021. In the United States, about 69% of people identified with one religion or another, as of 2021.
Yet, these studies are all older and limited in scope. More large-scale, global research is needed to confirm these findings.
In all, this limited data suggests that people with schizophrenia may be as religious or more religious than the typical population ― and the type of religion may play a vital role.
Spirituality and religion may be an important part of life for many people with the condition. This may affect many elements of the condition, from diagnosis to treatment.
How common are religious delusions in schizophrenia?
Hearing “voices” is an example of an auditory hallucination. This is a common symptom of schizophrenia. For people of a particular religion or faith, “hearing voices” is not considered a negative thing. In fact, it can be a positive part of the religious experience.
One small German study found that 39% of participants with schizophrenia experienced religious delusions. The rate was significantly higher in people with strong religious activity, while low or moderate religious activity seemed to have no effect. Most of the participants were of a Christian denomination.
Religion can help people learn to understand, cope, and engage with the world around them. For some people, the comfort and guidance provided by religious leaders and their faith provide great support throughout their lives.
For people with schizophrenia, religion can go beyond being a comfort. It can be an important part of coping with the mental health condition.
According to a
- increased social integration
- reduced risk of suicide attempts
- better outlook
- reduced risk of substance use
- lower smoking rates
- better quality of life
Religious support, like that found in a community of like-minded people of faith, may also help people have greater chances of recovery and a lower rate of relapse.
Some people in India also report that because their religion grants them a positive framework for the voices they hear, those voices are helpful and offer emotional support ― rather than being a distressing experience.
Religion is not always a positive force for people living with schizophrenia. A
- Persecution: feeling controlled or influenced by spiritual entities for harm
- Delusions: holding false beliefs, such as self-importance
- Influence: feeling controlled by spiritual entities or leaders
- Higher religiosity: greater dependency on the structure and rules of religion
- Treatment avoidance: preferring faith-based or no treatments over standard psychiatric treatment
People with schizophrenia may also feel “punishment” and “reappraisal” from God or a religious figure (Jesus, Satan, Prophet) more frequently. This can lead to feelings of shame and doubt.
Another study from 2021 looked at the differences experienced in auditory delusions in people in the United States and in India.
They found that the voices heard in India tended to be neutral and related to everyday activities, though they were frequently shameful about sexual thoughts. In the United States, the voices heard were more likely to be supportive of sexual thoughts but also more likely to suggest violence.
Religion and schizophrenia treatments
Religion is an important part of life for many people. Religious systems can provide support and guidance through mental health conditions, like schizophrenia.
If you consider yourself a religious person, it’s important to work with a therapist or doctor who acknowledges and respects religion as a part of a broad approach to schizophrenia treatment. While it is possible that religion can have negative effects on people with this mental health condition, the effects can also be positive.
Finding people who understand your mental health, your goals, and your struggles will help you move forward with treatment and expectations that align with your beliefs.
Likewise, if religion is not important to you, it may be important to avoid treatments that rely on religion. The emphasis on religion could have a negative effect on your outcome and well-being.
Religion and schizophrenia are not well understood together. In fact, there is limited research that looks at the relationship between the two. The research that does exist suggests that religion and spirituality can have a positive effect on some people living with mental health conditions.
Yet religion can also have a negative effect on people with schizophrenia. Due to their religious framework, some people experience greater symptoms more likely to affect their quality of life.
Some highly religious people with schizophrenia may also avoid standard mental health treatment. That can set back their recovery and increase the risk of complications and more severe symptoms.
If you’re a religious person with schizophrenia, it’s important to find a treatment plan that works with your religion. Many therapists and support groups exist that work to use the positive tools of religion to help people manage their schizophrenia symptoms.