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Living with cerebral palsy presents many challenges. It can feel unfair to be burdened with disabilities, but many people with cerebral palsy find comfort and support in their faith. Religion and spirituality have many benefits for mental and physical health.
How Spiritual or Religious Are People with Cerebral Palsy?
Not many studies exist to measure the religious practices of people with cerebral palsy specifically. However, a recent study performed a broad survey to determine the spiritual practices of people with disabilities compared to the general population.
The largest category of people with disabilities included in the study were those with mobility issues, which includes cerebral palsy.
Disabilities and Prayer
The researchers found that people with physical mobility disabilities like CP are more spiritual or religious than the general population. One of the biggest differences is in prayer. People with physical disabilities pray much more frequently.
The Challenge of Attending Services
The study found that although people with physical disabilities pray more, they also attend services less often. This might indicate that access is an issue. A person with cerebral palsy might not have access to transportation, or churches might not offer accommodations.
Moments of Doubt in Faith
Most people who are religious or spiritual have moments of doubt or times when they turn aside from their beliefs. Research shows that people living with disabilities are more likely to have these difficult moments of a crisis of faith than other people.
Why Do People with Disabilities Choose Faith?
Many people find strength and support in religion or spirituality. For someone living with a life-altering disability, there are two potential reactions to faith: turning away from a higher power that would allow this to happen and using faith to enrich their lives and to cope with the difficulties of their disabilities.
For people with cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities, choosing religion or faith is positive. They report several reasons their spiritual beliefs and practices enhance their lives:
- They bring meaning to the reality of living with a disability.
- Religion and spirituality help people adjust to difficulties and changes.
- Beliefs and practices associated with a higher power help them cope with their challenges.
- Religion and faith help them live more joyfully.
- Belief in a higher power provides comfort.
- Religious groups provide a social support system.
How Does Faith Help People with Cerebral Palsy?
People who live with disabilities have personal reasons and a variety of benefits they get from spiritual practice. Research largely backs up these benefits, according to studies. These benefits extend to the general population and to people living with disabilities like cerebral palsy.
According to research, higher levels of faith and spirituality among people with disabilities correlate with increased self-esteem, a sense of hope, social support, and an ability to cope with and adapt to grief and loss.
An association with faith also correlates in disabled people with reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. People who are more religious or spiritual are also less likely to be suicidal.
In addition to studies of disabled populations, many studies have found that religion and spirituality can benefit anyone in many ways:
Improved Mental Health
People living with cerebral palsy, especially when it causes severe and limiting disabilities, often suffer from poor mental health. Studies show that spiritual beliefs and participation in religion can improve mental health.
Religious practice provides a social community and connections that are good for mental well-being. A religious community gives an important sense of belonging and reduces loneliness. Many people find comfort in religious teachings regarding gratitude and life’s challenges.
Spirituality has similar benefits, although the social community is often lacking. Spirituality helps people feel connected to something bigger than themselves, which can be comforting. It helps people find meaning, even in challenges, like disability. Spirituality also encourages self-reflection, mindfulness, and expression, which are all good for mental health
Benefits for Physical Health
Cerebral palsy is a physical disability that cannot be cured, but any practices that improve physical well-being also improve quality of life. Research into the physical benefits of religion is limited but does show a positive connection.
Some studies show that involvement in religion or spiritual practices correlates with greater longevity. In other words, people with greater faith tend to live longer. It’s also connected to lower rates of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, better health outcomes overall, and greater quality of life.
People active in their faith are more likely to take advantage of preventative medical services and engage in general behaviors that promote good health. These include abstaining from alcohol and drugs, exercising regularly, and eating well.
Embracing Faith When You Have Cerebral Palsy
Faith is different for everyone. Embrace it in whatever way makes sense for and benefits your well-being. For some people, this means attending formal religious services. For others, it means more casual fellowship meetings or independent spiritual practices.
Living with serious disabilities might turn you away from religion or faith. Don’t push yourself to participate if it doesn’t feel right. If you do have faith and want to celebrate it, find your own way to do it.
Mainstream religious institutions are not always as inclusive as they should be. Look for a church or other group that accepts and welcomes your disabilities. A religious group, no matter the size, should view you as a whole person, not someone who needs fixing.
Religion and faith take many forms and are difficult to measure. What is certain is that many people benefit from having faith, being spiritual, and participating in religious organizations. If you have cerebral palsy, turning to or turning back to your faith, could be a great comfort and support.
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- Hodge, D.R. and Reynolds, C. (2019, May). Spirituality among People with Disabilities: A Nationally Representative Study of Spiritual and Religious Profiles. Health and Social Work. 44(2), 75-86.
Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/hsw/article/44/2/75/5248513
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Retrieved from: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2016/The-Mental-Health-Benefits-of-Religion-Spiritual
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