When Jenita Pace was 21-years-old, she tried to kill herself with a bottle of pills after her husband left for work. As fate would have it, Pace’s husband had forgotten something at home that day and came back to find her prepping for the act she had been contemplating for seven months.
Pace was immediately admitted to a small psychiatric hospital in South Carolina where she stayed for ten days. It was there that Pace developed a deep faith which ultimately saved her life and has sustained her spiritual health ever since, including when the darkness of depression crept back just two years later almost forcing her into remission.
Within 24 hours of her arrival, Pace experienced a divine moment flipping through the pages of her Bible, the only personal item she was permitted to keep after begging the staff not to take it upon entry.
“That first night was really rough,” Pace told The Federalist, noting that sleep was a luxury hard to come by under her new circumstances.
While sitting on the bed of an intimidating and unfamiliar place where she was admitted against her will, Pace stumbled upon Psalm 121, reading:
I lift my eyes up to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the maker of Heaven and Earth. He who takes care of you will not slumber and sleep. The lord will watch over you. The Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun will not harm you by day or the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from harm, and He will watch over you. He will watch over you now and forever.
The passage quickly became a holy lifeline Pace held onto throughout her time in the psyche ward and thereafter.
“God really gave it to me very quickly,” Pace said. “I used it every night after that. Used it all day and before sleep, especially.”
Nineteen years later, Pace is now a licensed counselor in Minnesota who has helped hundreds others overcome their own mental struggles.
Pace’s story is intimately familiar to millions of others who rely on religious faith to cope with the disease of anxiety and depression among other traumas. While Pace receives her spiritual grace from a Christian God, science has shown that faith in a supernatural wonder, whatever it may be, that bears powerful benefits on an individual’s mental and even physical well-being.
In a systematic review of the academic literature up to 2010 surrounding spirituality and depression, Duke University psychiatrist Harold Koenig found that nearly two-thirds of studies showed a significant association between religious involvement and less depression. About half found a significant reduction in anxiety.
Several studies since then have continued to offer compelling testimony to the psychic power of religion as the nation faces the greatest mental health crisis in recent history rising concurrent with the coronavirus pandemic. Census data released last week show 1 in 3 Americans now exhibiting symptoms of clinical anxiety or depression. As the literature shows however, faith is the vaccine to insanity.
A 2014 study by Columbia University psychologist Lisa Miller found that spirituality and religion can act as a psychic armor to protect individuals from depression by thickening the brain cortex. In 2011, Miller had also found that among adults who reported a high importance on religion or spirituality, 76 percent were less likely to suffer from a major depressive episode, even when their parents had depression therefore raising their risk.
“Faith is hope that there’s a future,” East Tennessee therapist Allysen Efferson told The Federalist, highlighting the importance of holding onto eccelesiastical beliefs amid a global deficit of forward optimism.
In an increasingly anxious era, Dr. Koenig explained that those who hold such faith are likely to experience less anxiety under the current pandemic than secularized persons.
“People with religious faiths are not grappling with this by themselves,” Koenig told The Federalist. “People who have faith are going to experience less anxiety because they’re not carrying that entire burden of stress on their own. They have help.”
Koenig added that while studies have shown religious involvement associated with better mental health, this involvement is also associated with better physical health correlating with stronger immune systems and faster recovery from infection making faith all the more important to a virus-stricken world.
Koenig even found that religion can stave off aging. With a team of researchers from China and Saudi Arabia, Koenig studied the telomere lengths of Chinese Muslims which are key indicators of age and well-being.
“Telomeres serve as a biological clock within the cell that determines how long the cell will survive,” Koenig said. “When the telomeres shorten to a critical length, the cells cannot reproduce and leads to death of the organ and eventually the person.”
In their study, Koenig and his colleagues found a significantly positive relationship between spirituality and the subjects’ telomere lengths.
“It makes perfect sense from a science standpoint, because psychological distress causes an increase in inflammation in the body and it is that inflammation that shortens telomeres,” Koenig said. “Because religion helps people to cope better with stress, this helps to reduce the level of chronic low-grade inflammation, thereby reducing the speed of telomere shortening and extending longevity.”
More practically, religious values often discourage the addictive vices that Americans have clung to in order to cope with never ending lockdowns by promoting healthy lifestyles. Alcohol sales have spiked while Americans excessively over eat, smoke and drink their way through the pandemic.
“Religion helps to counteract those behaviors by encouraging people to not smoke, not drink, not use drugs, support family members, and stay physically active as a way of preserving the temple of the Holy Spirit,” said Koenig, at least in the Christian tradition.
While the benefits of faith on an individual’s well-being is clear, Pace still urges anyone struggling to seek professional help.
“First, there is no shame in needing help,” Pace said. “I wish that somebody had led me to that before I tried to kill myself.”
Pace cautioned however, not to expect a quick fix and to focus on building a community of support, a community often found in religious institutions made available online in the absence of open houses of worship.
“Churches are working hard to implement resources, many of them offer a list of faith based counselors and some even have in-house counselors, videos and resources,” Pace said. “I encourage clients to reach out to a church, even if they are not a member, because faith communities are typically open to helping anyone in need.”
Some counselors however, aren’t always good listeners Pace said, as she encountered the experience first-hand while in the South Carolina psychiatric hospital. One group therapist was encouraging participants to “be the captain of your own ship,” but those present weren’t buying it.
“As the captain of the ship I wanted to sink the ship” one group participant said, which “ticked off” the therapist.
If some counselors aren’t good listeners Pace said, then move on to another.
The national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255. More resources are here.