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Guest Blogger Dr. Shah talks about Mental Health

In this blog, Dr. Atul Shah, founder of Diverse Ethics, talks about mental health, and the role religion can play in preserving it.  For further information, please visit www.diverseethics.com.


RELIGION PRESERVES MENTAL HEALTH AND GIVES INNER STRENGTH AND DIGNITY

My father is 87 years old. Every morning he prays and meditates for three hours, without fail. He is disabled, can barely walk, but this is his ritual. It gives him peace, meaning and purpose, and I have noticed that his mind is very sharp all day, and he reads and reflects all the time.

This is not an isolated story. I know many Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Jains for whom faith is a core part of their life, and in retirement gives them strength, self-confidence and mental peace in spite of the most difficult of circumstances. When every day people head to work, I see many elderly people heading to their local temples, gurudwaras or mosques to get a sense of meaning and community and to pray and worship. This is a story we rarely read about in the newspapers or the media – it is a fact which saves the government a huge amount of money (millions of pounds), through savings in mental health and physical health bills, building harmonious families and sustaining communities. And most faith organisations are entirely self-funded by the communities and do not get a penny from the government. They are not scroungers or benefit cheats, but instead people and groups who add significantly to our health and well-being as a nation. Unfortunately, this story is rarely appreciated, understood or celebrated.

In 2010, I embarked on an Epic Masala Tour of Britain, to showcase the story of the Indian community in Britain and how it contributes to the country through its faith, ethics, food, creativity, culture and education. I filmed as I travelled to catalogue the personal stories of individuals and communities, and created a special You Tube channel for this. You can read about the tour here: http://www.diverseethics.com/masala/about-masala/mblog-6

And watch any of the 80 films on the You Tube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/MasalaTour

Through these stories, you will discover how faith influences and enriches society often in very subtle ways. Another great aspect of faith is festivals. And I have seen mental health being hugely boosted for many people during these experiences. In fact, festivals are like a mental health holiday, and recommended for everyone at least a few times in the year. I write just after the V music festival, and this also attracted thousands of people, but each had to purchase an expensive ticket, and the music brought everyone together. However, faith festivals go deeper and reach wider than this as they are bound by discipline, free to all and encourage people to seek purity and divinity, and avoid drink and drugs.

What modern scientists and journalists do not understand is the huge variety and depth of faith, and its long history, tradition and creative heritage. The UK government must publicly recognise the huge contribution of faith communities and educate policy makers and health practitioners to work with these communities to provide support and encouragement. Economists and social scientists need to measure the economic impact of faith communities and the huge benefits they generate for health and wellbeing.