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In fact, half of all adults who have suffered depression had their first experience in adolescence; teens are considered the demographic most at risk for it.
She calls the results “the most amazing science I had ever seen.” In the pairs Miller found in the data, shared spirituality (religious or otherwise)—if it reached back to the child’s formative years—was 80 per cent protective in families that were otherwise at very high risk for depression.
The urge is never sharper than in adolescence, when, in the fraught process of individuation, teens develop their own sense of the world and their place in it.
“A teen looks out at what’s been handed to him or her, from family or community,” Miller says, “and asks, ‘What about these values, what about this way of life is me, and what is not me?
By the end of it, as Miller sets out in a provocative new book, , out later this spring, she was convinced not only of spirituality’s health benefits for people in general, but of its particular importance for young people during a stage of human development when we are most vulnerable to impulsive, risky or damaging behaviours.
In fact, Miller declares, spirituality, if properly fostered in children’s formative years, will pay off in spades in adolescence.
It was the start of a long and sometimes rocky road for both Miller and the place of spirituality—however defined—in mainstream psychological thinking.
She remembers doors literally slammed in her face and “people walking out of talks I was giving.” But Miller and other researchers, including so-called “spiritual” neuroscientists like Montreal’s Mario Beauregard and the much-cited American psychologist Kenneth Kendler continued to explore the intersection of religiosity and mental health in studies published in major, peer-reviewed science journals.Teens in this often excruciating situation sometimes will turn to substance use, risky sex, physical danger—all of which are shortcuts to transcendence that ultimately have their roots in the same universal drive.On the other hand, adolescents who have supported spiritual lives, especially dating back to childhood, and “practice in asking and living through hard questions, are more prepared to face them,” Miller says.She was in a subway car crowded at one end and almost empty at the other, because that end was occupied by a “dirty, dishevelled man” brandishing a piece of chicken at everyone who boarded while yelling, “Hey, do you want to sit with me? ” The awkward scene continued for a few stops until an older woman and a girl of about eight—grandmother and granddaughter, Miller guessed—got on.The man bellowed his questions, and the pair nodded at one another and said, “Thank you,” in unison, and sat beside him.It’s worth noting that the advantage was conferred by individual devotion rather than the degree to which the girls believed sacred writings were the literal word of God—spirituality, then, rather than religion.