Is Religion Better At Solving The Mental Health Crisis In Indian Youth?

ED Times
5 min readApr 5, 2024


By Katyayani Joshi -

The United States grapples with a burgeoning mental health crisis attributed partly to the widespread adoption of smartphones and social media. The New York University-based social psychologist Jonathan Haidt warns of dire consequences, with statistics indicating alarming rises in suicide rates and depression among young Americans since the advent of smartphones.

This forebodes a potential storm on the horizon for India, where similar trends in smartphone usage and family breakdowns are emerging, particularly in metropolitan areas. The most recent ‘Mental Health State of the World ‘ report, released by the US non-profit organization Sapien Labs, underscores the detrimental effects of early smartphone exposure combined with the erosion of familial and social connections on the mental well-being of adolescents.

Observationally, these patterns have become commonplace among young urban Indians. Moreover, the author of the report suggests that India may be experiencing comparable dynamics, potentially leading to a mental health trajectory akin to that observed in Western societies.

However, amidst this looming crisis, there is a notable absence in policy discussions regarding the potential role of religion in mitigating mental health issues.

The Rising Tide of Mental Health Challenges

According to a recent in The Atlantic, suicide rates for young girls in the US have risen by 131% between 2010 and 2019, with a 48% increase for all adolescents, alongside a 50% uptick in depression and anxiety, largely correlated with the smartphone and social media explosion around 2012. Statistics reveal a concerning surge in mental health issues among young Indians, mirroring trends observed in the West.

Close to 800 million internet users have access to the internet in India, with rising smartphone penetration. The research further correlated this smartphone usage with heightened levels of “impatience and aggression, decreased concentration, memory impairments, headaches, eye and back strain, and heightened stress .”

Furthermore, India boasts some of the world’s most affordable mobile data rates, with usage witnessing a rapid annual growth rate in double digits. The nation’s demographic dividend, comprising 600 million individuals under the age of 25, stands as the most vulnerable group susceptible to these shifts in lifestyle.

A 2023 survey by Local Circles of 46,000 parents across India found that 61% of children aged 9–17 spent three hours or more online, with associated health problems such as stress and memory issues. Additionally, indicate a rapid rise in divorce rates, particularly in metropolitan cities, possibly reaching as high as 30%.

Haidt and various scholars advocate for several policy measures aimed at mitigating the effects of these transformations. However, notably absent from their research is one of the most significant defenses against the psychological stressors induced by technology: religion. The absence of religious and cultural institutions in these discussions overlooks their historical role in fostering resilience and community cohesion during times of crisis.

Religion as a Potential Solution

Recent research underscores the potential of religion to mitigate mental health challenges, particularly among adolescents. Studies show a significant reduction in depression rates among religiously engaged individuals, highlighting the unique benefits of religiosity in fostering self-esteem and coping skills.

Amidst the surge of contemporary psychological stressors, it is imperative to acknowledge the potential advantages of religion in addressing mental health challenges. Religious establishments can provide a plethora of remedies, such as strengthening familial and communal ties, fostering a sense of inclusion, and providing secure community hubs.

A in the Journal of Political Economy highlights a significant reduction in depression rates among religiously engaged individuals. This research highlights the critical notion that involvement in clubs, sports, or extensive social circles cannot replace the distinct positive impacts of religiosity.

The mechanism driving these beneficial effects lies in the enhancement of self-esteem and the development of more effective coping mechanisms against depression. The COVID-19 pandemic further demonstrated the resilience of religious institutions in providing crucial support networks and coping mechanisms during times of adversity.

Recognizing the untapped potential of religious institutions, there is a need to reconsider their role in addressing contemporary mental health issues. By leveraging their extensive networks and community ties, religious organisations can offer holistic solutions that promote mental well-being alongside spiritual guidance.

Policy Recommendations

In comparison to the Western context, India stands in a favorable position to utilize its vast network of religious and cultural institutions in addressing the impending crisis. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to contemplate the following policy and social responses:

To harness the potential of religion in combating mental health issues, policymakers must prioritise deregulations and innovations within religious organisations. Initially, it’s imperative to implement deregulation measures concerning religious organizations nationwide and abolish outdated temple control statutes.

In numerous states, temples are constrained and overseen by the overburdened Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE). Doubts linger regarding the department’s capability, motivation, or proficiency in addressing contemporary concerns. Archaic temple control laws and bureaucratic constraints hinder the adaptability of religious institutions to address modern-day challenges effectively.

By granting autonomy and fostering innovations, these institutions can better cater to the evolving needs of communities, providing relevant support and guidance.

Moreover, there is a need to focus on creating inclusive and accessible spaces that foster a sense of belonging, particularly among urban youth. Religious organisations can play a pivotal role in providing safe and vibrant community spaces where individuals can engage in meaningful interactions, away from the digital distractions of smartphones.

Several religious organisations in India have already demonstrated the potential for innovation in promoting mental well-being. Entities like ISKCON, the Isha Foundation, and the Art of Living have successfully engaged young urban demographics, providing spiritual and social sanctuaries. These organisations offer a diverse range of activities and services that cater to the holistic needs of individuals, fostering a sense of belonging and purpose.

Policymakers can draw inspiration and guidance to integrate religious institutions into broader mental health strategies. These alternative venues have the potential to nurture communities united by shared values and norms.

Within these spaces, individuals have the opportunity to interact in person, mark special events, engage in physical exercises, and expand their social connections. These examples showcase the transformative potential of religion in addressing contemporary challenges and promoting holistic well-being.

In the face of a looming mental health crisis fueled by technological advancements and societal changes, the role of religion as a mitigating force cannot be overlooked. India stands at a critical juncture where proactive policy measures can leverage the strengths of religious institutions to foster resilience and well-being among its youth.

By prioritizing deregulation, innovation, and community engagement, policymakers can unlock the transformative potential of religion in addressing the multifaceted challenges of mental health in the modern era. A skeptic may contend that resorting to medication could offer a more straightforward solution. Nonetheless, even antidepressants prove effective in merely approximately one-fifth of depression instances. Thus, perhaps exploring the “opium of the masses” is worth considering.

In India, where the availability of public spaces is limited, the need for such areas becomes more pronounced. This scarcity may be contributing to the growing dependence on smartphones across all age groups. Establishing alternative spaces becomes crucial, as they can cultivate communities with common values and norms.

As the world grapples with the complexities of mental health, embracing the role of religion may offer a beacon of hope amidst this storm.

Originally published at on April 5, 2024.