The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

The Baha’i writings emphatically state that mental health struggles are separate from the life of the soul: “The soul of man is exalted above and is independent of all infirmities of the body or mind.” But there also appears to be a strong correlation between spiritual strength and mental health management. 

Even as a mental health professional myself, I’m still seeking to understand the connection between spirituality and mental health, and learning how to apply the spiritual teachings of my faith to my life. 

I have experienced anxiety and depression at different points of my life and have come to feel that perhaps such struggles are part of our spiritual journey in this life and preparation for the next. Going through bouts of anxiety and depression were a catalyst for me to reflect on my purpose. I found myself asking: Why am I experiencing these tests and difficulties? Have I done something wrong to deserve this?

At times, these questions led me to question how much I was serving my community and whether I was doing my part as a professional counselor to truly help my clients. They led me to examine my underlying prejudices, my fear of failure and my need to please others. 

I have begun to grasp that some things are in my power to change and some are not.  Some of my struggles may be biologically inherited, and some may be a consequence of the environments I find myself in — and I may never be able to differentiate between them. But as painful as such challenges can be, the challenges we face can provide opportunities to grow in areas such as patience, forbearance, and tolerance.

The central figures of the Baha’i Faith have shared some wisdom in this regard. In a 1911 speech, Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, the founder and prophet of the Baha’i Faith, said: “Test are benefits from God, for which we should thank Him. Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting.”

Coming to this understanding has led me on a path of discovering what virtues I need to work on to grow spiritually. I’m learning to be honest with myself as a human being, as a member of my faith community and as a professional — to acknowledge what I’m capable of, listen to my inner voice, and practice truthfulness, which Baha’u’llah told us is the “foundation of all human virtues.”

All the prophets of God endured intense persecution and needed to take time to focus on their own wellness, pray, and reflect. For example, Moses went to the mountain, and Christ went to the wilderness. And although these holy figures had spiritual power beyond our capabilities, they were human as well. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, wrote

“As we suffer these misfortunes we must remember that the Prophets of God Themselves were not immune from these things which men suffer. They knew sorrow, illness and pain too. They rose above these things through Their spirits, and that is what we must try and do too, when afflicted. The troubles of this world pass, and what we have left is what we have made of our souls; so it is to this we must look — to becoming more spiritual, drawing nearer to God, no matter what our human minds and bodies go through.”

Though there’s still stigma surrounding mental illness, it’s important that we move past those attitudes. Seeking help and support from a trained mental health professional can be essential. Therapy provides a safe and confidential space to explore any concerns a person may need to address, and furthermore, most clinicians today understand the importance of incorporating spirituality into their practice. 

The skills used in therapy are fundamentally derivative of all spiritual traditions. They incorporate faith over fear as a coping skill, overcoming worries, changing anxious thoughts into peaceful ones, practicing grounding and mindfulness, strength-based methods, redirection, cognitive-behavioral approaches, and the idea that pure thoughts lead to pure actions. 

When seeking an appropriate counselor, the initial intake interview can provide you with the opportunity to develop rapport with your clinician and determine if they respect your religious beliefs, and if they are open to using spiritual tools. Remember, the most essential spiritual quality is truthfulness: if you are not capable of being honest with your therapist, progress in counseling will be impossible.

Additionally, taking time to rely on the Divine remedy — the Word of God — has brought me much healing and helped me cope with my own mental health struggles. When we are in pain, we can lose sight that our faith in God can pull us through times of distress. I find comfort in one of my favorite quotes from the Baha’i writings: 

“Rely upon God. Trust in Him. Praise Him, and call Him continually to mind. He verily turneth trouble into ease, and sorrow into solace, and toil into utter peace. He verily hath dominion over all things.”

Keeping our thoughts centered on prayer and the Word of God is critical, but we also have physical bodies that require training. Our minds benefit from exercise and training, which is why practices such as meditation and mindfulness better prepare us to be able to cope with the stressors of life.  

9 Comments

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  • Dara Shaw
    Jun 24, 2020
    I think you have made some important connections here that are very constructive between mental wellness and spiritual wellness. I am reminded of the the Hidden Word, "O Son of Man! Content yourself with Me and seek no other helper, for none but Me can ever suffice Thee." But part of the healing solution can be the loving guidance of a trained therapist. I have benefited on several occasions from the wise counsel of several therapists who have guided me to new ways of thinking.
    • Adam Runey
      Jun 25, 2020
      Thank you for your thoughtful and kind response Dara and encouraging others to seek out counseling.
  • Joel Price
    Jun 18, 2020
    This was a wonderful read! Interesting how the Prophets themselves needed to overcome adversity as well. It certainly puts things into perspective. Perfect timing for this article! Thanks Adam
  • Cyndy Pratt
    Jun 18, 2020
    Many thanks. This is such a well thought out, honest and oh so timely article for the many people overwhelmed by the stressful events in their own lives and world events to internalize and reflect on. Would welcome a follow-up piece on what effect all the heightened levels anger and negativity is having on people's mental health and how they should positively channel that.
  • Rachael G
    Jun 17, 2020
    Beautifully said! Grateful to be reminded of these ultimate truths especially now. I appreciate it.
  • Sami Ferdousian
    Jun 17, 2020
    Great read!
  • Irene Iturburo
    Jun 17, 2020
    Thank you for the article. I’m glad we are becoming more aware of the needs in mental health and explore the spiritual side of wellbeing
  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Jun 17, 2020
    I needed to read this as I have been allowing myself to become overwhelmed with worry in several areas of my life of late. Made myself extremely ill, but for not as long as I would have or could have like past times. I pray hard that each time so many troubles hit me at once I ask God to help me tackle them one at a time. I'm slowly getting there but fail now and again. Thank you for writing this.
    • Adam Runey
      Jun 17, 2020
      I am happy it helped you in some way and thank you for your kind words and honest introspection.