The study was based on a survey of 7,403 randomly selected men and women in England who were questioned about their spiritual and religious beliefs and their mental state. The researchers concluded that there is increasing evidence that people who profess spiritual beliefs in the absence of a religious framework are more vulnerable to mental disorder.
The article doesn't delve into the reasons why, which leaves the field open for me to offer my own conclusions in this post.
Judging from my own experience, being spiritual is different than being religious in that there are no rules or rituals governing the spiritual life. There is no cozy community of like-minded people, no conformist attitudes that favor group-think. Quite the opposite. The spiritual quest is a solitary endeavor, very much a path of the alone, by the alone, for the alone, with not very much light at times. To be spiritual is to turn your attention to what goes on within oneself. It is a path of expanding self-awareness.
Why should such a path carry a risk to mental health? One reason might be that the kind of intense introversion that accompanies a spiritual quest, in terms of the various types of meditation that hold the potential of awakening dormant energies in the body. Activating these energies may result in the person's experiencing various hallucinations either auditory, visually or both. This is not limited solely to those claiming to be spiritual; it can happen as a result of intense trauma, but a surge of this energy into the brain can impact consciousness which could lead to mental health issues, if not managed sensitively.
Religion doesn't carry this same risk. There isn't the same kind of experimentation taking place in the laboratory of the body. Religion is pretty much a passive affair — you attend, you listen, you're told what to believe. Yes, you do pray, often only halfheartedly, and without conviction.
The spiritual quest engages all the senses, the mind and the body, too. It is an active undertaking.
The spiritual quest isn't for everyone. Yet with the proliferation of trendy New Age fads, many unstable individuals dabble with pursuits they should probably avoid. The spiritual quest requires resilience, skepticism, and the ability to troubleshoot. If this sounds like the character qualifications for becoming an engineer, then you're on to what it takes. The spiritual quest is the re-engineering of the Being. Only certain individuals succeed therein.
By focusing on rituals and dogma, religions cultivate a safe, social environment for their followers, one steeped in contradictions: they scorn the pursuit of wealth at the same time they amass it; they extol the simplicity of Jesus at the same time they themselves live lives of opulence. Resilience is unnecessary; skepticism is discouraged; troubleshooting is unheard of.
But while religion is safe, it doesn't produce the richness of mystical experience that Carl Jung once described, "He who looks outside, dreams; he who looks inside, awakens." So while I have had to manage my mental health — to attain the richness I now have — I will always and forever take spiritual over religious.