A symposium being held at the University of Otago, Wellington on Monday 25 November offers a chance to tackle some of life’s most fundamental questions, including the nature of reality and the meaning of life.
The symposium is thought to be New Zealand’s first academic conference on Spirituality and Mental Health, and is being co-organised by the University of Otago and The Salvation Army.
Dr Richard Egan
One of the organisers, Dr Richard Egan, the co-director of the Social and Behavioural Research Unit, at the University of Otago in Dunedin, says research has shown that positive spiritual well-being is associated with better mental health outcomes, and becomes progressively more important as life challenges increase.
As few as 12 per cent of New Zealanders go to a church, synagogue or temple regularly, but there is widespread belief in God and an afterlife among Kiwis.
“Spirituality is crucial to many, particularly those experiencing distress in their lives. It can provide a sense of belonging and hope, as well as enhancing coping strategies and a sense of control.”
Dr Egan says research suggests that while there has been a move in psychology and psychiatry to acknowledge and address spirituality, this has not translated into the clinic.
“What is becoming increasingly recognised is that spiritual needs are important for mental health and well-being and are not being well met.”
In New Zealand, Māori and Pacific approaches to mental health often include spirituality, and those at the symposium will have the chance to hear Dr Diana and Tohunga Mark Kopua discuss the Māori approach to mental health embodied in the Mahi a Atua programme.
The symposium will include sessions on enhancing emotional resilience; spirituality and coping in post-earthquake Canterbury; Pacific approaches; and how psychology can incorporate spirituality into practice.