Interest in religion, culture and mental health has flourished in the past decade. However, this topical area is characterised by psychic retreats, and splitting and projection as psychological defences that emerge when cherished beliefs, values and ways of living are contrasted across religious groups. It is difficult to find guidelines which are comprehensive, constructive or do justice to the complex influences of culture on the expression, recognition and management of mental distress within and across religious groups. All of this is made more challenging as society and public services are becoming increasingly secularised.
Religion, Culture and Mental Health provides a compelling, engaging and accessible account of this controversial and often mystical subject. Kate Lowenthal anticipates the controversies and sets a caring and gentle pace to take readers through different forms of mental distress and disorder, including schizophrenia, manic disorder, depression, anxiety, somatisation and dissociative states. She also addresses positive states of mental well-being. For readers who are not specialists in mental healthcare, she defines each disorder and the relationship with religious beliefs and practices. She then progresses to present case reports and in-depth accounts of religious experiences and expressions of distress with religious content, in order to bring alive for the reader the interaction between religion, spirituality and mental distress. This is not easily achieved in a territory where controversies abound, not only in religious domains but in numerous disciplines that present distinct critiques of mental healthcare in a culturally and religiously diverse society. Anthropology, sociology, transcultural nursing, psychology and psychiatry have all evolved rapidly, each with particular emphases and realms of interest. Yet, subjects such a politics, social policy, education and migration studies are also important commentators.
There are clear research and clinical practice examples on positive and negative effects religion may have on a person's mental health and well-being, although positive examples prevail. The author further develops her analyses by looking at religious-specific issues emphasising religious differences in the practice of faiths and in interpersonal processes that influence coping and resilience. She argues for religiously specific or, at least, religiously informed clinical practice.
For those interested in recovery, well-being and mental health in a culturally and religiously diverse society, Religion, Culture and Mental Health will provide many hours of thought, controversy and teaching material, not to mention an enjoyable scholarship.
- © 2009 Royal College of Psychiatrists