Can Spirituality Make a Difference in Patients With a Serious Illness?

Over the last 20 years, several published studies have confirmed that patients who are diagnosed with serious illnesses such as mesothelioma have a better prognosis when they regularly participate in spiritual practices.

In a study spearheaded by Harvard University, researchers determined that healthy people who actively participate in community-based spiritual events generally tend to live longer, are less likely to experience depression and attempt suicide, and are less likely to engage in substance abuse.

The study also found that a spiritual lifestyle helps patients deal with serious illnesses because it encourages them to explore, nurture, and value their whole-body health rather than just their physical condition.

What Is Spirituality?

For the purposes of these studies, being spiritual is defined differently than merely being religious. As a result, anyone can identify as a spiritual person without identifying as a member of a specific religious group or organization.

Although a robust spiritual life can certainly include religious beliefs, it doesn’t have to be rooted in any specific practice.

Depending on the person, spirituality might look like:

  • Connecting with family and friends
  • Engaging in community with others
  • Fostering hope and positive thinking
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Relaxing through breathing techniques and meditation
  • Seeking meaning and purpose in life
  • Spending time in nature

Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list. There are many other components of spirituality that can impact someone’s overall health, general mood, and relationships with others.

Should Doctors Initiate Conversations About Spirituality?

Since studies show spirituality can have a positive impact on health outcomes, some researchers recommend that doctors discuss it with their patients.

The results of a national newspaper poll showed that while 65% of readers liked the idea of speaking with their doctors about spirituality, only 10% said that their doctors had talked to them about it.

By talking to patients about spiritual health, doctors may help them take better care of themselves through a holistic, all-encompassing approach.

Spirituality may be helpful in reducing:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Burden of illness, pain, and stress
  • Fear of death and dying
  • Resentment toward loss and suffering

These discussions may even allow doctors to build deeper trust with their patients, as it can add a new layer of compassion, empathy, and sensitivity to their relationship.

Noticing this sense of compassion from their doctors can also help patients make the best medical decisions for their unique circumstances. This is particularly important because certain faith-based beliefs can cause some patients to delay specific medical decisions or treatments.

For example, some people choose to pursue spiritual practices, such as prayer and fasting, as a way of seeking healing. They may believe that their connection to spirituality will help cure their illness, and so they may reject medications and medical procedures.

However, as doctors and patients begin to address issues of faith more openly and frequently, patients may feel more at ease with pursuing treatments.

Additionally, if a doctor is familiar with a patient’s spiritual lifestyle, they’ll be able to communicate more effectively with them and present treatment options that align with their beliefs.

We Are Here to Help

If you have recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma, our Patient Advocates can help you navigate your health journey.

We understand the emotional distress that you may be experiencing after learning about your diagnosis, and we are available 24/7 to help you find mesothelioma specialists and medical treatments that are right for you.

Contact us or call (866) 608-8933 today to explore your options.

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Sara Bunch, Senior Editor, News & MediaWritten by:

Senior Editor, News & Media

Sara Bunch is a writer with a background in academic, entertainment, ethnic, and faith-based news media. She is a double alumna of California State University, Northridge, where she earned a B.A. degree in English and an M.A. degree in Mass Communication, with an emphasis in Journalism. Her master’s thesis focused on the coverage of ethnic and religious minorities in international news outlets.

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  1. Balboni, T.A, VanderWeele, T.J., Doan-Soares S.D. (2022) Spirituality in Serious Illness and Health. JAMA; 328(2):184–197. https://doi:10.1001/jama.2022.11086

  2. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Spirituality linked with better health outcomes, patient care.” Retrieved from: Accessed on November 8, 2022.

  3. Harvard Medical School. “Do Spirituality and Medicine Go Together?” Retrieved from: Accessed on November 8, 2022.

  4. Puchalski C. M. (2001). The role of spirituality in health care. Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center), 14(4), 352–357.

  5. Zaidi, D. (2018). Influences of Religion and Spirituality in Medicine. AMA Journal of Ethics, 20(7), 609-612.

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