Spirituality is Key to Health Literacy

 •	© GLOW IMAGES o	models are used for illustrative purposes“Nearly half of all American adults – ninety million people – have difficulty understanding and acting upon health information,” according to Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion.

According to the “End Confusion” report, health literacy “is the degree to which individuals can obtain, process, and understand the basic health information and services they need to make appropriate health decisions.”  And it doesn’t only depend upon the individual patient to understand, it is also important for health care providers to understand how to disseminate the correct information to the patient in a clear way.

Health care professionals are being encouraged to spend more time with the patient, get to know them, and take into account education levels, reading and math skills, language barriers, cultural and social factors and more.

“When people struggle with understanding how to prevent and manage health conditions, they are more likely to skip necessary medical tests, have a harder time with reading test results and visit the emergency room more often.  They also tend to make mistakes with their medications, and fail to understand nutrition labels,” says a health literacy month article published by the Mayo Clinic.

Being health literate is certainly important; and, it should start with having some common understanding of what health is. Across a broad spectrum of health professionals, increasingly, it is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Many today also include spiritual wellbeing as needed for complete health. That information, however, is not yet included in the health literacy campaign this month. The focus on improving health literacy is entirely on medical advice, treatments, patient’s educational level and ability to understand a language.

Yet, given that we know our thinking and our spirituality influence our health, would it not make sense to spend some time exploring and better understanding what kinds of thoughts and what spiritual practices improve our health? Would that not also make us more “health literate?”

Case in point, an article from the University of Maryland Medical Center says there are a growing number of studies revealing that “spirituality plays a bigger role in the healing process than the medical community previously thought. Prayer,” communing with a higher power,” it says, “has been used as a means of healing across all cultures throughout the ages.”

It might be fair to say that both the public and the medical community are in the process of re-discovering the connection between spirituality and health and incorporating it into our overall concept of health literacy.

The Bible and other sacred texts have a lot to say about health, such as: “I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,” (1) the prophet Jeremiah quotes God as saying to Israel at a very desperate time.  And this one from Proverbs, “Trust in the Lord … this will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” (2)  Even our language gives us a glimpse into how closely health has been tied to our sense of the divine over millennia; health, whole, and holy share a common root, as do salvation and salve.

Mary Baker Eddy, the author of the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures spent decades studying the relationship between thinking, spirituality and Jesus’ healing work to understand how modern men and women could bring prayer into the treatment of illness. Her writings provide insight into the importance of the spiritual aspect of health literacy. “To ignore God as of little use in sickness is a mistake. Instead of thrusting Him aside in times of bodily trouble, and waiting for the hour of strength in which to acknowledge Him, we should learn that He can do all things for us in sickness as in health.” (3)

The Maryland Medical Center article says that spiritual practices and prayer improve one’s “coping skills, fosters feelings of optimism and hope; promotes healthy behavior; reduces feelings of depression and anxiety; and encourages a sense of relaxation.  By alleviating stressful feelings and promoting healthy ones, spirituality can positively influence immune, cardiovascular, hormonal, and nervous systems.”

Patients are certainly expanding their view of this dimension of health literacy, and the medical community is responding by recognizing the need to include spirituality in their treatments.  “People often want the time and privacy to talk about personal issues which are adversely affecting their health and wellbeing.  … The experience of being truly listened to, can itself be transformative.”

In the same article it says that a woman was discussing her health issues with a doctor. At one point he expressed concern, to which she responded, “At the end of the day, doctor, the inner journey is the only journey that really matters.” She certainly had a glimpse of health literacy that went beyond medical technologies and treatments, education levels and language barriers.

1) The New International Version Bible, Jer. 30:17

2) The New International Version Bible, Proverbs 3:8

3)  Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, page 166:16

Kate is interested in blogging about health, health care, spirituality, Christian Science, science, religion, the importance of prayer in maintaining a healthy mind and body.  She is a Christian Science practitioner and the media, legislative and public contact for Christian Science in the state of Maryland.  She and her husband enjoy hiking, especially with Callie, a Blue Heeler, and riding motorcycles.