Enhancing Mental Health Through Spirituality

Thursday, 25 July 2013: 8:50 AM

Joy Penman, MN, BN, MSc (Pharm), BSc (Pharm)
Nursing and Rural Health Unit, University of South Australia, Whyalla Campus, Whyalla, South Australia, Australia

Learning Objective 1: The learner will be able to achieve a better understanding of the lived experience of spirituality from the perspective of palliative care clients and caregivers.

Learning Objective 2: The learner will be able to appreciate the benefits of engaging in spiritual matters, one of which is good mental health as this study revealed.


The focus of a recent qualitative study presented in this paper was the lived experience of spirituality.  Spirituality has been associated with diverse meanings including purpose in life, religion and relationships.  Fourteen participants from rural and regional Australia informed the study by providing their conceptual understanding of spirituality.  These participants had experienced a life-limiting condition directly as a patient or vicariously as a caregiver.  The purpose of this paper is to discuss one of the profound findings of the study which was the benefit on the mental health of individuals engaging in spiritual matters.


Van Manen’s theoretical framework of hermeneutic phenomenology was chosen for the study.  This approach enabled the researcher to access beliefs and perceptions relating to spirituality and self-disclosed ways by which participants engaged in spirituality.  It also provided rich detail of the impact of spirituality on the participants. 

Four palliative care clients and ten caregivers, recruited through palliative care teams of seven health services and self-referral, were selected for this study.  The participants’ narratives captured during interviews were the human reality that the study portrayed.  The phenomenological themes of spirituality were identified following van Manen’s wholistic and selective approaches.  A mental health assessment was also conducted to determine the influence of spirituality on mental health.


The findings revealed that engaging in spirituality assisted in maintaining and promoting good mental health.  The participants reported that spirituality helped them ‘cope’ with their circumstances.  The positive mental effects of spirituality encompassed feelings of ‘contentment and satisfaction’, ‘less anxiety and pressure’, and elicited positive emotions such as ‘love’ and ‘compassion’.  Those engaging in spirituality exhibited positive coping behaviour, affect and mood, and insight and judgement. 


Spirituality was found to be a potent internal resource to attain better mental health outcomes for some clients and caregivers confronting life-limiting conditions.