While the concepts of spirituality and spiritual care are well documented and advocated as important, there is a lack of understanding as to how these relate to nursing practice (Daly & Fahey-McCarthy, 2014). The aim of this eLearning resource is to introduce the reader to the concept of spirituality in mental health and to provide some information about how mental health nurses may assist families who are affected by mental health problems with spiritual issues and concerns. It will also refer readers to online resources and further reading to supplement their knowledge on spiritual issues.

After engagement with these eLearning materials you will

  • understand the concept of spirituality as it relates to mental health.
  • be cognizant of the information provided to facilitate discussion and engagement with families who have spiritual issues of concern.

Spirituality Defined

Take some time to consider the concept of spirituality. When you think about the concept of spirituality, what comes to mind? How are the spiritual needs of service users and their families considered in your own mental health practice?

Consider McSharry & Smith’s (2012:118) understanding of spirituality:

Universal, deeply personal and individual; it goes beyond formal notions of ritual or religious practice to encompass the unique capacity of each individual. It is at the core and essence of who we are, that spark which permeates the entire fabric of the person and demands that we are all worthy of dignity and respect. It transcends intellectual capability, elevating the status of all humanity to that of the sacred.

Given McSharry & Smith’s (2008) understanding of spirituality, why is it important for mental health professionals to consider the spiritual needs of service users and their families?

Read the following resource from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN):

Spirituality in Nursing Care: A Pocket Guide (RCN, 2011)

Considering the aspects of spirituality briefly introduced din the RCN document, how might mental health professionals ensure that these needs are met for families who experience mental distress?

The concept of recovery has received increasing attention over the last number of years. Anthony (1993:12) provides probably the most widely cited definition of recovery:

A deeply personal, unique process of changing one’s attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills and roles. It is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful and contributing life even with the limitations caused by the illness. Recovery, involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of ‘mental illness.

If we look at how we understand spirituality as described by McSharry & Smith (2012) and Anthony’s (1993) definition of recovery, we can see similarities between the two concepts. Using recovery orientated approaches to work with mental health services users and their families will invariably ensure that a holistic approach is adopted. Recovery oriented services place the service user at the center of intervention and endeavor to provide a service that is unique to their particular needs. In terms of spirituality this approach:

  • acknowledges the spirituality in people’s lives
  • gives service users and staff opportunities to talk about spirituality
  • encourages service users to tell staff their needs
  • helps service users to express their spirituality
  • uses person centered planning and incorporates spiritual needs. (mental Health Foundation)

The Cambridgeshire & Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (2009:5) when describing the relationship between spirituality and recovery state that:

It is central to the recovery approach to mental health service delivery that the spiritual and religious needs of service users are taken into account as a core component of assessment and care delivery. Understanding the importance of spirituality in an individual’s life is a key in ensuring that the services we deliver are person centered and equitable. If people are treated, valued and regarded as a whole,they are better equipped to cope with illness and recovery time is quicker.

Another central aspect of spirituality is the concept of hope. Hope is defined by Miller & Powers (1988:6) as a:

State of being, characterized by an anticipation of a continued good state, an improved state or a release from a perceived entrapment. The anticipation may or may not be founded on concrete, real world evidence. Hope is an anticipation of a future that is good and is based upon: mutuality, a sense of personal competence, coping ability, psychological wellbeing as well as a sense of ‘the possible’.

Given Millers & Powers (1993) definition above, how might mental health professionals develop hope inspiring relationships with service users and their families?

Spirituality resources
Spirituality in nursing care: Royal College of Nursing on-line resource
Spirituality and mental health: Royal College of Surgeons on-line resource
Rethink Mental Illness Spiritual and Mental Illness (Factsheet)
Recommendations for psychiatrists on spirituality and religion
The impact of spirituality on mental health: A review of the literature
Healing from Within: Spirituality and Mental Health
Spirituality and Recovery Strategy
Spirituality in the Recovery from Persistent Mental Disorders
Keeping the faith: Spirituality and recovery from mental health problems
Spirituality(Mental Health Foundation)

Spirituality is an important component of peoples lives. However it is often poorly understood and addressed with mental health service users and their families. Key to understanding spirituality is an awareness of our own beliefs and practices about the nature of spirituality. The resources presented here will assist mental health professionals to examine the concept of spirituality and use some of the principles to assist service users and their families when they are working with them.

Anthony W. (1993) Recovery from Mental Illness: The Guiding Vision of the Mental Health Service System in the 1990s. Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal 16 (4), 11 -23.

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (2009) Spirituality and Recovery Strategy 2009 – 2014: Embracing and nurturing the human spirit. Cambridgeshire & Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

Daly L. and Fahey-McCarthy E. (2014) Attending to the spiritual in dementia care nursing. British Journal of Nursing 23 (14), 787 -791.

McSherry W. & Smith J. (2012) Spiritual Care. In McShrrry W,. McSherry R. and Watson W. (eds) Care in Nursing: Principles, Values and Skills, Oxford Univeristy Press, Oxford, pp 96 - 113.

Mental Health Foundation Spitituality. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/S/spirituality/ accessed on the 12th October 2015.

Miller J. and Power M. (1988) Development of an instrument to measure hope. Nurse Researcher 37(1), 6 - 10.

Repper J. and Perkins R. (2003) Social Inclusion and Recovery: A Model for Mental Health Practice. Bailliere Tindall, London.

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.