Seeking Help for Religious and Spiritual Struggles: Exploring the Role of Mental Health Literacy

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The purpose of this study was to explore mental health literacy for religious and/or spiritual (R/S) struggles and help-seeking patterns. In total, 791 college students from 2 institutions on the Gulf Coast completed an online survey with Exline, Pargament, Ellison, and Flannelly’s (2014) Religious and Spiritual Struggles Scale and a modified version of the Mental Health Literacy Questionnaire for Anxiety Disorders (Coles & Coleman, 2010) that included a vignette of a peer who was struggling with his faith and culturally sensitive response options that accounted for R/S concerns (problem recognition, causality of problem, help-seeking recommendations, help-seeking behaviors, and intentions for R/S struggles). Several findings emerged from descriptive and inferential analyses: (a) most participants (74.2%) viewed R/S struggles as a problem associated with religion/spirituality; however, religious individuals were more likely to view the problem along these lines; (b) individuals were roughly as likely to attribute the R/S problems in the vignette to stress and environmental factors compared to explicit R/S factors; (c) approximately half of the participants recommended that the R/S struggler should seek professional help, regardless of perceived causes of the problem; and (d) participants were less likely to pursue mental health treatment for themselves; however, greater portions of the sample were amenable to seeking informal/religious sources of help with their own actual and/or hypothetical struggles with religious faith and/or spirituality. Although preliminary in nature, these findings underscore the probable importance of R/S struggles with college students as well as utility for enhancing training and engagement between mental health clinicians and R/S professionals.

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