More spirituality in health system could boost health, well-being

Nurse holding hands with patient

June 12, 2024 – Integrating more spirituality into public health and medicine in the U.S. can improve individual and population well-being, according to a study co-authored by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study, published in the June 2024 issue of Health Affairs, was led by Katelyn Long, research associate in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Epidemiology and a postdoctoral fellow in the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Other Harvard Chan co-authors included Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology, and Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership.

Spirituality includes “a sense of ultimate meaning, purpose, transcendence, and connectedness,” the authors noted. They pointed out that spiritual factors have played a role throughout history in promoting well-being among individuals and the broader population. In recent years, they added, a growing body of research has linked spirituality with a range of positive health outcomes, including lower mortality risk.

The researchers assessed how spiritual considerations are being integrated into public health and medicine in the U.S.. For instance, they noted, most U.S. hospitals have chaplaincy programs. Also, in some states and communities, spiritual and faith-based organizations are serving as community partners in improving people’s access to health services, including among minority populations. “We’re not starting from zero on these kinds of efforts,” Long said in a June 4 Axios article. “If we’re going to scale, there are wonderful places we can look.”

The authors offered several recommendations for how to further integrate spiritual considerations into health care, including fostering spiritual and religious literacy in public health training, strengthening connections and trust between public health leaders and spiritual communities, and dedicating funding to help assess the extent and impact of spirituality and faith-based interventions on health.

Read the Health Affairs study: Spirituality As A Determinant Of Health: Emerging Policies, Practices, And Systems

Read the Axios article: Health care needs more spirituality, experts say

Read an article in The Hill: Spirituality can boost health and well-being: Researchers

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