Being spiritual may give life deeper meaning but it can also mess up your mind, research suggests.
A study found that people professing to be spiritual, but not conventionally religious, were more likely to suffer from a host of mental challenges.
Their demons included abnormal eating conditions, drug abuse, anxiety disorder, phobias and neurosis. They were also more likely than others to be taking medication for mental health problems.
Professor Michael King, from University College London, and his fellow researchers wrote in the British Journal of Psychiatry: "Our main finding is that people who had a spiritual understanding of life had worse mental health than those with an understanding that was neither religious nor spiritual."
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 mental state. Of the participants, 35% described themselves as "religious", meaning they attended a church, mosque, synagogue or temple. The vast majority of this group (86%) were Christian. A further 19% claimed to have spiritual beliefs or experiences without following a specific religion, while 46% were neither religious nor spiritual.
More than nine out of 10 were white British, with an average age of 46.
Of the different groups, spiritual people were 50% more likely to have a generalised anxiety disorder and 72% more likely to suffer from a phobia. They also had a 77% higher chance of being dependent on drugs and were 37% more at risk of neurotic disorder. Spirituality was also associated with a 40% greater likelihood of receiving treatment with psychotropic drugs.
Individuals of religious faith and those with none experienced equal levels of mental problems, the study found. But there were fewer problems with drugs or alcohol among the faithful.
Unlike some American studies, the new research found no clear relationship between religious belief and happiness. One recent large internet study in the US reported that non-religious people with spiritual beliefs were emotionally less stable than other groups. However, they made up only 2% of the study sample.
The researchers wrote: "We conclude 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 nature of this association needs greater examination in qualitative and in prospective quantitative research."