The psychiatry journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Psychiatry) recently published the results of a study that revealed that people who are at high risk of depression and believe that religion or spirituality is important are less likely to suffer from depression. The results of the study showed that the cerebral cortex of each of the brains of the people who were less likely to suffer from depression was thicker. The cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of the brain.
The study was conducted with 103 adult participants, all of whom were children or grandchildren of a previous group of people who had participated in an earlier study of depression. The individuals who had a family history of depression were considered to be at high risk for depression, while the individuals with no history were used as a control group.
Over a period of five years, religious and spiritual importance were assessed, and images of the participants’ brains were captured by magnetic resonance imaging. The high-risk participants who indicated that they were not particularly religious or spiritual had much thinner cortices and struggled with depression. The participants who were religious or spiritual had thicker cortices and exhibited more resilience in dealing with and overcoming depression.
Although the report was not conclusive, the study suggested that religiosity or spirituality actually enhances a person’s brain in a way that helps the person deal with and overcome depression.
The study was performed by researchers from the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University. Myrna Weissman, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University and one of the individuals who worked on the study, commented, “The brain is an extraordinary organ. It not only controls but also is controlled by our moods. Our beliefs and our moods are reflected in our brain, and with new imaging techniques we can begin to see this.”
If the conclusion suggested by the study is true — that religious and spiritual people have thicker cortices that help them ward off depression — then we have to acknowledge that there is a unique connection between the body, mind, and soul of every person.
It’s hard to imagine that a strong belief in God can actually cause the outer lining of the brain to thicken, which in turn can help a person better deal with depression. In effect, the building up of the outer wall of the brain provides a protective barrier against depression.
This new theory that there is a direct connection between spirituality and the body is supported by the fact that our Lord sweat drops of blood when he foresaw and agonized over what He was going to have to go through in order to gain salvation for mankind. Although His extreme anguish may have started out in His mind, it had an immediate impact on His soul and His body and manifested itself by causing Him to sweat blood instead of perspiration.
If our bodies, minds, and souls really are interconnected in such a way that one impacts the others, then anything good that we do for our bodies will have a positive effect on our minds and souls. If we eat nutritional food or we exercise, in addition to the benefits for our body, we are also going to experience an immediate and ongoing benefit for our mind and soul.
By maintaining a positive outlook on life, not only will we benefit our mental and emotional states, but we will also positively impact our spiritual and physical states.
This study supports the contention that if our belief and faith in God are strong enough, we really do have the power to heal our emotional and physical injuries.
In response to a question from His disciples as to why they were unable to drive out demons, Jesus said, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20.
It is our faith that can move mountains. It is our faith that can heal our emotional wounds. And it is also our faith that can, at times, even heal our physical maladies.