Having a spiritual community can help people to live healthier lives, with greater longevity, less depression and suicide, and less substance use
Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health argue that spirituality should be incorporated into care for both serious illness and health – as being part of a spiritual community can be beneficial for your overall health.
According to the International Consensus Conference on Spiritual Care in Health Care, spirituality is “the way individuals seek ultimate meaning, purpose, connection, value, or transcendence.”
While this includes organised religion, it also extends well beyond to include ways of finding ultimate meaning by connecting, for example, to family, community, or nature.
Tyler VanderWeele, the John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology, says: “Spirituality is important to many patients as they think about their health. Focusing on spirituality in health care means caring for the whole person, not just their disease.”
Spirituality can be important and influences key outcomes in illness
For many religious patients, spirituality is important and influences key outcomes in illness – such as quality of life and medical care decisions.
Consensus implications included incorporating considerations of spirituality as part of patient-centred health care and increasing awareness among clinicians and health professionals about the protective benefits of spiritual community participation.
The researchers identified and analysed the highest-quality evidence on spirituality in serious illness and health published between January 2000 and April 2022. Out of 8,946 articles concerned with serious illness, 371 articles met the study’s strict inclusion criteria, as did 215 of the 6,485 articles focused on health outcomes.
A structured, multidisciplinary group of experts, called a Delphi panel, then reviewed the strongest collective evidence and offered consensus implications for health and health care.
The 27-member panel was composed of experts in spirituality and health care, public health, or medicine, and represented a diversity of spiritual/religious views, including spiritual-not-religious, atheist, Muslim, Catholic, various Christian denominations, and Hindu.
They found that spiritual community participation, as exemplified by religious service attendance, was associated with healthier lives, including greater longevity, less depression and suicide, and less substance use.
“Overlooking spirituality leaves patients feeling disconnected from the health care system”
Tracy Balboni, lead author and senior physician at the Dana-Farber/Brigham, says: “This study represents the most rigorous and comprehensive systematic analysis of the modern day literature regarding health and spirituality to date.
“Our findings indicate that attention to spirituality in serious illness and in health should be a vital part of future whole person-centered care, and the results should stimulate more national discussion and progress on how spirituality can be incorporated into this type of value-sensitive care.”
The simple act of asking about a patient’s spirituality can and should be part of patient-centred, value-sensitive care.
According to the researchers, collecting information from the conversation with spiritual communities can help to guide further medical decision-making, including but not limited to notifying a spiritual care specialist.
Koh says: “Overlooking spirituality leaves patients feeling disconnected from the health care system and the clinicians trying to care for them. Integrating spirituality into care can help each person have a better chance of reaching complete well-being and their highest attainable standard of health.”
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