Valerie Michael is exploring how spiritual health relates to the overall health of young people.
Queen’s University post doctoral fellow Valerie Michaelson is exploring research around adolescents and spiritual health. While spiritual health has long been recognized as important to health and well-being, there has been renewed interest in understanding what it is, and how it relates to the health of young people.
In a cross-national analysis, her team found that the importance of spiritual health decreases as children age, but for those who maintain its importance, the strong and positive health benefits are very provocative.
Spiritual health is defined as an awareness of the sacred qualities of life and is connected to experiences of compassion, wonder and the search for meaning. To measure it, they looked at connections in four domains: to 1) oneself; 2) to others; 3) to the natural world and 4) to some kind of larger meaning to life.
“When people hear that we are studying spiritual health, they sometimes think that we are studying religion,” says Dr. Michaelson (Public Health Sciences, School of Religion). “Religious traditions can sometimes be vehicles for spiritual experiences and growth, but we view child spiritual health as a much more universal construct, one that can be experienced with or without a religious commitment.”
This initial cross-national analysis examined patterns in the spiritual health of young people by developmental stage and also by gender. Across the six countries involved in our analysis, (Canada, Czech Republic, England, Israel, Poland and Scotland), the main observations that emerged include:
- Girls consistently reported that spiritual health was more important than boys, and the importance of spiritual health declined as children got older.
- Connections to self and others were reported as being much more important to young people than were connections to nature and to the transcendent
- There were some anomalies in the findings from Israel, as compared with the other countries.
- There was a strong relationships between high spiritual health and positive overall health.
“While we do not understand fully the social and biological mechanisms that underlie spiritual health, the connections that are captured in our new measures seem to be very important, suggesting that spiritual health may play an important role in the causes of health and well-being.” says Dr. Michaelson. “These connections with ourselves, with others, with nature or with some sort of connection to something larger than ourselves are fundamental to our health and to our ability to flourish.”
This research has a number of practical implications. For example, if spirituality enhances health by increasing personal meaning, strategies aimed at enhancing personal meaning in children’s lives require promotion. This could include simple approaches such as encouraging young people to keep journals or to participate in volunteer activities. Providing opportunities for young people to not only care for, but also to learn to know and love the natural world, may also be important.
Working with Dr. Michaelson on the research were Jo Inchley (University of St. Andrews) and Fiona Brooks (University of Hertfordshire), and a team from Queen’s University including Drs. William Pickett, and Colleen Davison and Mr. Nathan King. The research was published in Social Science and Medicine: Population Health. This research is part of a larger international project with Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HSBC) and was published in Social Sciences and Medicine.
Original story in the Queen’s Gazette.