We were recently involved in planning and delivering a conference on Spirituality and Mental Health, sponsored by two Primary Care (Mental Health) Trusts in Essex and Interact, a mental health charity with Christian roots. It was attended by over 250 delegates, made up of faith communities (predominantly Christian groups and clergy), mental health service-providers (NHS and not-for-profit), mental health professionals (mainly doctors and nurses), and a sprinkling of 'service-users'.
The purpose of the coference was to develop an agenda of 'do-able' things that would progress the potential benefits that psychiatrists and others believe spirituality may bring to health, including mental health.
Amongst other considerations, the question arose of what consititutes good quality spiritual care; and related to that, the issue of how it might be practicable to conduct some form of "spiritual needs assessment" as a preliminary step in providing spiritual support to those who wanted it.
How might health professionals be enabled to recognise and assess the religious and spiritual aspects of a person's life? And what might the components of spiritual health care look like? Some might think that even to pose questions like this is a bureaucratic step too far. On the other hand, one might argue, inaction does a disservice to those for whom, whilst not necessarily holding formal religious beliefs, the spiritual dimension of experience is at the heart of what it means to be human, to have a deep-seated sense of meaning and purpose, and is identified with acceptance, integration and wholeness.
According to one source, "The spiritual dimension tries to be in harmony with the universe, strives for answers about the infinite, and comes especially into focus in times of emotional stress, physical and mental illness, loss, bereavement and death".