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Secular Health and Sacred Belief?

A Study of Religion and Mental Illness in Modern Irish Society

Áine Lorié

Social exclusion is one of the most significant problems facing individuals with mental illness in contemporary Ireland. In the era of the growing secular medical-industrial complex and its alienating effects, it is important to strengthen confidence in mental health services that promote social inclusion, specifically for stigmatised groups. As mainstream facilities remain attached to a biomedical framework, religious outlets operating in the voluntary sector may serve as an alternative option.
This book examines religion’s therapeutic potential, concentrating on aspects of Catholicism as manifestations of Max Weber’s prosocial concept of ‘brotherliness’. This line of enquiry is approached both on a macro level, looking at institutional religion, and on a micro level, looking at personal beliefs. The author examines such issues as the power of the institutional church in disseminating collectively orientated ideas; the public response to mental illness in Ireland over the past two centuries; the tendency within the field of psychology to pathologise belief systems and instrumentalise religious coping; and processes of secularisation, socialisation and ritualisation, which can either assist in or hinder the subjective adaptation of religious ideas. The theoretical arguments are contextualised by in-depth interviews with members of the «peerled» mental health group GROW.


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Maybe I went through this suf fering so that I can relate to and understand others, and so that my experience can help someone else along the way.1 Both medically and socially, how society approaches mental health prob- lems is truly a complex issue which is constantly transforming and evolv- ing. In terms of its public response, Ireland has certainly come a long way in dealing with mental illness, especially in the last twenty-five years. The Mental Health Act of 2006 entitled A Vision for Change2 (2006: 56) greatly acknowledges this progression by stating, “the enormous changes brought about in the mental health services in Ireland since 1984 must not be under- estimated. No other area of health or social care in Ireland has changed so dramatically in that period”. Since the public reception of mental health problems in Irish facilities is constantly changing, understandably, there are still many social sectors that require further adjustment. Above all, social exclusion is considered to be one of the most sig- nificant problems facing individuals with mental illness in contemporary Ireland. Vision (2006: 35) explains that mental health suf ferers are par- ticularly vulnerable to social exclusion on account of the perpetuated and systemic “cycle of exclusion”. On an economic level, Holt-Lunstad et al (2010) have shown that there is high medical cost to social isolation due to the greater risk to mortality. In Ireland, it has also been described on the RTÉ 1 programme Three 60 that until recently society has reacted...

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