The relationship between religion and schizophrenia is often studied by psychologists because of the similar nature between religious experiences and psychotic episodes. Positive symptoms of schizophrenia (symptoms that appear after the onset), such as auditory and visual hallucinations and delusions, are often the experience of many who practice religion. Thus a stigma exists that schizophrenia patients and highly religious people are crazy and out of line with society. However, results from studies go in two completely different directions, suggesting that religion can be both a risk and a protective factor for schizophrenia.
Some studies focus on the intersection between religious practice and inpatients of schizophrenia. According to a paper written by Grover et al., the prevalence of religious delusions and hallucinations varies across countries, with rates ranging from 6 to 63.3 percent. Cultural differences also exist across religions, with Christian patients having more religious delusions when compared to Buddhist and Muslim patients. Common themes amongst religious delusions include: persecution, influence (being controlled by the spirits), and self-significance (delusions of sin/guilt or grandiose). Interestingly, the same paper states, “Data also suggest that patients with religious/spiritual delusions value religion as much as those without these types of delusions, but patients presenting delusions with religious content report receiving less support from religious communities” (Grover et al., 2014). This highlights that stigma exists for those who experience religious delusions.
With the high amount of overlapping qualities between religious delusions and schizophrenia symptoms, it is important to study the effects of religious practice on the outcomes of schizophrenia. Some studies have suggested that religious practice in schizophrenia patients is associated with positive outcomes, such as “Increased social integration, reduced risk of suicide attempts, reduced risk of substance use, decreased rate of smoking, better quality of life, lower level of functioning, and better prognoses.” Nevertheless, some studies contest otherwise and stress that religiosity, or strong religious beliefs, has negative impacts on schizophrenia patients, such as higher risk of suicide and poorer treatment adherence (Grover et al., 2014).
Studies have also been conducted on how religious beliefs influence the treatment adherence of schizophrenia patients. According to the paper written by Borras et al., “Thirty-one percent of nonadherent patients and 27% of partially adherent patients underlined an incompatibility or contradiction between their religion and taking medication, versus 8% of adherent patients.” This demonstrates that schizophrenia patients who are religious are less likely to follow instructions on medications due to contradiction with their religious beliefs. The same paper also points out, “Fifty-seven percent of patients had a representation of their illness directly influenced by their spiritual beliefs (positively in 31% and negatively in 26%).” This suggests that research holds contradictory results to whether religions positively or negatively affect individuals with schizophrenia.
Although there is a lot of overlap between schizophrenia symptoms and religious experiences, there is not a lot of medical literature that covers religiosity, and religious delusions are seldom diagnosed. According to Living With Schizophrenia, “A review of four major psychiatric journals carried out in the US in 1982 found that only 2.5% of the articles even mentioned religiosity and that in most cases the mention was just cursory.” In order to destigmatize the experience of schizophrenia and religious delusions and improve treatment adherence, there should be more studies in the future so that schizophrenia patients can obtain a balance between practicing their faith and falling in line with their treatment.
Borras, L., Mohr, S., Brandt, P. Y., Gilliéron, C., Eytan, A., & Huguelet, P. (2007). Religious beliefs in schizophrenia: their relevance for adherence to treatment. Schizophrenia bulletin, 33(5), 1238–1246. https://doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sbl070
Grover, S., Davuluri, T., & Chakrabarti, S. (2014). Religion, spirituality, and schizophrenia: a review. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 36(2), 119–124. https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7176.130962
Religious and Spiritual Delusions in Schizophrenia. (2019). Living With Schizophrenia. livingwithschizophreniauk.org/religious-spiritual-delusions-schizophrenia/.