Near-death experiences triggered by stress, not delusion or mental illness, says survey

Near-death experiences, where people believe that they leave their bodies and enter heaven or hell, are caused by a normal reaction to stress and not psychiatric illness or delusion, new research shows.

Near-death experiences, where people believe that they leave their bodies and enter heaven or hell, are caused by a normal reaction to stress and not psychiatric illness or delusion, new research shows.

Scientists and doctors have long recognised the strange visions of tranquil journeys or hellish experiences by people who have died and being resuscitated, but the cause has been hotly disputed. Most believe that people who are close to death are vulnerable to delusions and just repeat whatthey have seen or heard before.

However, Dr Bruce Greyson, from the University of Virginia, has found that near-death experiences are not related to delusion or mental illness, but are part of the way the body copes with intolerable stress. "This study contributes to the growing evidence that near-death experiences are not symptoms of psychiatric disorder, and that those who experience it should not be treated as mentally ill," he said.

His study of 134 people who had been close to death, published in The Lancet, showed that 72 per cent of them had experienced some form of dissociation of their thoughts and feelings from their bodies - an "out of body experience" - with younger people being more likely to have done so.

The findings revealed that women were more likely than men to have out of body experiences. However, people did not display pathologically high levels of dissociating their bodies and minds. "The profile of people who had near-death experiences was a non-specific response to stress rather than a profile of someone with a pathological disorder," he said.

For many people, near-death experiences are accompanied with feelings of intense peace and joy. However, previous research conducted at the University of Coventry showed that half of those who came close to death had a "hellish" experience.

Joyce Harvey, a 75-year-old retired CID officer from Essex, had a near-death experience when she was recovering in hospital from a chest infection. Ms Harvey said that she washaving problems breathing when she suddenly felt very cold and could not move. "I started going down and down in a life, with someone pulling my legs which were really hot," she said. "There were terrible noises, discordant notes, and screaming. I could see thousands of faces without bodies beneath me; they were trying to pull me down further and further. I was terrified."

Ms Harvey said that she felt she was dying and fought to come back to life. "Suddenly I was coming back up in the lift and the nurse was standing in front of me," she said. "I had no particular beliefs and believe it was my body responding to lack of oxygen."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent