Spirituality And Chronic Illness
Table of Contents
The Relationship Between Spirituality & Well-Being for the Chronically Ill
Advances in healthcare have extended life expectancy and altered the burden of disease, resulting in a greater incidence and prevalence of chronic illness. Individuals are now able to live for many years with diseases such as AIDS, Cystic Fibrosis, and Multiple Sclerosis. Many others are living into old age with heart disease, Parkinson's Disease, cancer, and other chronic health conditions. The importance of the management of chronic illness will become even more significant in the United States as the Baby Boomers age, and in the developing world as improving medical technologies become available and impact the longevity of people in such highly populated areas as Asia and South America. As the burden of chronic illness grows, so must research expand to learn what factors contribute to the well-being of the chronically ill, and how to best care for individuals living with chronic illnesses.
Our investigation addresses the role of spirituality in the well-being of individuals living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is a chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system characterized by unpredictable lifelong physical and emotional effects. Approximately 350,000 people in the United States currently live with MS. Data from a national sample of individuals with MS and their spouses (Family Health Study), and a statewide sample of the general healthy population (Montana Family Survey) were analyzed for this investigation.
Study participants were queried regarding their perceived levels of depression, family well-being, social support, and spirituality. Responses to these questions were used to determine if any relationship exists among these variables for the various samples. Further analysis is being conducted to determine if these relationships differ among individuals with MS, their spouses, and a community sample. For instance, one question we are seeking to answer was "Is the relationship between spirituality and family well-being different for those living with chronic illness than for healthy individuals?"
Spirituality may have an important impact on the well-being of the chronically ill and others. The impact of spirituality for the chronically ill may be evident in its capacity to supply the coping resources that can be valuable tools in promoting hope and managing depression. The ability to cope with illness is an important factor in improving one's physical and mental health status. Successful coping may also aid in the promotion of family health, another measure of overall well-being. Social support is another means of coping with stress and significantly contributes to well-being. This investigation attempts to distinguish the impact of social support on well-being from that of spirituality. The results from this study could provide important insight into how to provide and ensure the most effective care of the chronically ill by determining the significance of both social support and spirituality.