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Keeping the Faith: One student’s experience with spirituality and mental health


By Christal Huang, CAMH NYAC member, and Joanna Liscio

In the history of defining the concept of health, mental health has become an increasingly important part of the conversation. Fortunately, different methods of coping with mental illness and maintaining mental health have been a product of these discussions. This has allowed people to explore and use what works best for them. A faith- or spirituality-based approach to coping with mental illness is one of these methods. Despite its common use, there are many myths and misconceptions.

I spoke with a student, Joanna Liscio, who says that faith has always been a part of her life. “I was raised in a Roman Catholic household and attended Catholic school for the majority of my educational career. From a young age Catholic beliefs and traditions were instilled in me and I was expected to uphold these beliefs in my daily life and life decisions. However, my religious path has not always been stable. I have contemplated and questioned faith, which I believe is important.”

Joanna and her family endured a great test of faith when her brother was diagnosed with cancer while she was coping with mental illness. During this time, Joanna turned to faith to manage her mental health.

Feeling alone, Joanna found that faith filled the void of a support system. It provided Joanna a community and sense of belonging. Faith assured her that she was not alone even in these difficult times. More importantly, it helped her understand that there is not always going to be an answer for everything, but that is okay.

“This life is complicated and complex. I find it mentally draining to constantly need immediate answers, so placing my faith in something beyond this Earth allows me to release the anxiety of needing to figure everything out on my own.”

Through faith, Joanna also learned the importance of self-love. She has taken this idea to adopt a lifestyle that embraces positivity towards herself and others. Given the key values that Joanna has learned from taking a faith-based approach to managing her mental health, she encourages others who are interested to focus on the key messages and ideas that faith encourages people to practice. For Joanna, this is ideas that “encourage people to be better people, to treat others with kindness, and to do good deeds.”

“I encourage people to research and learn about different faiths and religious practices,” says Joanna. “Although I was raised as a Catholic, I have visited Muslim mosques and Buddhist temples. I have explored many religions and found important values in all of them. They all have a predominant underlying factor; they believe in a higher power that encourages them to do good. This aspect of faith and spirituality is often overshadowed by the ‘rules’ of religion, but I think they should be recognized and embraced.”

Similar to other methods of managing mental health and coping with mental illness, Joanna explains that a faith-based approach supplements other methods. It is not a treatment. Faith teaches the values that can bring balance and positivity into one’s life. These are values that support one’s journey to achieve and maintain mental health.

Image courtesy of eperales on Flickr

Spiritual CareThis is part of a series dedicated to CAMH Communications Specialist Joan Chang, a talented and passionate communicator who appreciated the value of spiritual care. Joan developed a story framework to shine the spotlight on spiritual care at CAMH, and completed some interviews for the series. She died suddenly in June, 2015. A tribute to Joan is included on the CAMH Foundation website. Other articles in this series:

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