The Waterloo-Wellington branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHAWW) is interested in addressing mental health in a way that acknowledges various cultural perspectives on mental health. The CMHA describes mental health as a balance in all aspects of one’s life, from mental and emotional to physical and social. This paper will be examining three studies focused on mental health in India, one of the most prevalent countries of origin for immigrants. How mental health is conceptualized in India will be discussed, focusing on how religion and spiritual practices are used to help those in need.
The first study explored how mental health is conceptualized by religious healers, focusing on India’s three dominant religious groups: Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. Through interviews and observations, authors Champion and Bhurga found that Hindu practitioners emphasize family and religion’s role in healing, and how they address mental illness in relation to the cause of the challenges. Muslim healers used prayers from the Quran and used treatment for families as well as the individuals. They ascribed the cause of some psychological troubles being related to black magic. The authors of this study found that Christian healers had a holistic approach to treating mental illnesses, not unlike Muslim and Hindu practitioners.
The next study by Kar expands on Champion and Bhurga’s work, by examining how faith-based healing is used by patients at psychiatric facilities. They focused on patients who had been diagnosed with clinical disorders and connected the causes to external factors, which helps reduce the stigma around mental illness. Most patients tested had psychotic illnesses, while the remainder of the sample had mood disorders. Similar to the first study, many patients who used faith-based healings believed black magic was related to the cause of their mental illness. A study on social distancing was done to study the stigma around mental health, and most participants did not consider a mental illness to be a real medical illness. Once told that it was in fact a medical illness, they took a step back further, which shows that labeling mental illness as a serious medical illness increases stigma in some cases.
The final study by Ganga and Kutty focused on the positive mental health of people in India, and how it is impacted by religion and spirituality. They emphasize the difference between religious affiliation and required practices to demonstrate one’s “religiosity”. The authors produced a questionnaire and also distributed the Achutha Menon Centre Positive Mental Health Scale (AMCPMHS) which rates positive mental health on a scale of 100. The goal was to see if different religious practices lead to different scores of positive mental health in young adults. Due to many factors affecting mental health and not solely one’s religion, such as education and employment, analyses cannot imply causation, however only in the context of what was studied, religiosity did explain variability in the scores of positive mental health.
All three studies show that religious beliefs play a significant role in how people in India conceptualize mental health and illness. There have unfortunately been very few studies done on the relationship between religion and mental health and illness in India, but these studies have immensely contributed. Future research relating to this area should address limitations of these three studies and reach for more answers.
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