Spirituality among young adults with serious mental illness

Hi friends,

This is a long overdue share on a paper that was published last year, but I wanted to be sure to let y’all know about it before more time passed! Back in 2017, Dr. Sarah Narendorf (Assistant Professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work), Kelsey Moffatt (MSW graduate of Baylor University’s Garland School of Social Work) and I had a couple of research questions we were interested in:

1: How do vulnerable young adults in psychiatric crisis talk about religion/spirituality?
2: How do religion/spirituality emerge in the narratives of their experiences, understanding, and management of their mental health problems?

Dr. Narendorf had interview data with 55 young adults who were using emergency psychiatric services, and as she read through the data initially, she realized religion/spirituality (RS) unexpectedly emerged throughout many interviews! None of the interview questions directly asked about the young adults’ faith, and this wasn’t at all the focus of the project, yet these participants who were facing extremely difficult situations were describing their RS in a number of ways tied to their mental health, including:

  1. Positive RS coping strategies (54 times mentioned across 23 participants)
  2. Role of support systems & RS (52 times mentioned across 27 participants)
  3. Relationship with God/Higher Power (38 times mentioned across 15 participants)
  4. Negative RS experiences/coping (21 times mentioned across 13 participants)

If you’re curious about the details of the project and what we found, the original research article is entitled, Religion and spirituality among young adults with severe mental illness and can be found here. It’s clear from these young adults’ stories that without even asking about RS explicitly during the interview, it was an important topic for many of these 18-25 year olds who had been admitted for psychiatric services for bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, or a schizophrenia spectrum disorder.

As mental health care providers, it’s critical we continue considering and assessing the ways in which this area of clients’ lives can be woven into the presenting issue in these areas above (positive RS coping; negative RS coping/experiences; relationship with God; role of social support & RS), or in other ways, and often in a complex combination of many topics related to RS and mental health.

If you’d like to read more about this study, there were a few media pickups on it here:

Baylor University
Business Standard
Psych Central
La Croix International
and others…

I hope each of you are well and enjoying your summer! It’s been quiet in the Oxhandler home lately, as I’ve kept my head down to tackle a few big projects, write a lot, pause on CXMH podcast this summer, catch up on reading (see my goodreads page for what books are on my night stand!), prepare for the tenure process this upcoming year, learn a new rhythm of rest, and most importantly, spend lots of time with my family. I hope the summer has been good for each of y’all, too, and I look forward to sharing some more recent research and findings with you in the near future!



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