Studies show that, when it comes to maintaining mental and emotional health, Jesus Christ still beats even the most famous self-help authors. But sobering new research points to a link between the trend in Americans’ spiritual beliefs and the future of the nation’s mental health.
The Journal of Consumer Research published a study indicating that God-conscious individuals are less likely to seek out and consume self-help products. Researchers found this to be true among people of varying religious beliefs. Keisha Cutright of the Fuqua School of Business said in a statement that “when people are thinking about God, they have a sense that they are loved for exactly who they are.”
The study’s abstract notes that “the degree to which God is salient has a negative effect on individuals’ preferences for consumption choices with self-improvement features compared to equally attractive options that do not include such features.” Just thinking about God, Cutright explains, activates a greater sense of being loved for who you are. So naturally self-improvement material just doesn’t seem as important.
However, simple belief in God is not the only factor in this equation; it also matters what one believes about the Creator. Researchers found that “God salience” is less likely to impact interest in self-help products “when God is considered to be a punishing (vs. loving) entity.” It’s when folks see God as loving and forgiving that they tend to be disinterested in self-help products – and that doesn’t just extend to books and classes. Researchers also found that grocery shoppers in locales with higher religious populations spent less on items marketed to improve their health, such as low-fat milk or other healthier options.
Another study titled “Attachment to God and Psychological Distress: Evidence of a Curvilinear Relationship,” suggested that individuals who experience anxiety or lack certainty about their faith in God could be at risk for mental health problems. “A lot of research has been able to demonstrate that religious practices, like prayer and religious service attendance, can have positive effects on mental and physical health,” Matthew Henderson, one of the study’s authors, told Newsweek.
The author further explained:
“Furthermore, based on key previous research, we had reason to suspect that the relationship between belief and psychological well-being was not straightforward. Rather, our suspicion was that what a person believed about God, the divine, the afterlife, etc. was less important a predictor of their psychological well-being than the certainty with which they held their beliefs.”
In other words, the study found that the more certain one is of their religious beliefs, the less likely they are to experience mental illness
In light of these findings, the fact that fewer people are involved in religious communities might have some troubling ramifications for the future of American society. Yes, one can have a deep and abiding faith in God without attending church, but belonging to a community has been seen as an important way to maintain one’s faith. There is a reason Paul gives this exhortation in Hebrews 10:25 (NLT): “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
Mental health seems to be one of the fastest-growing problems that few are willing to discuss in the public square. Nevertheless, the results of these studies cannot and should not be ignored, despite the current trajectory of the culture. If the church fails to persuade its congregants to return to the fold, it could have a dire effect on the rest of the nation in the not-so-distant future.