Programme no. 132-OP
Public Health
Living with double explanations. A qualitative study on Christian faith and mental illness in one of the world’s most secularized countries.
Aina Lilja*1, Arja Lehti2, Annika Forssén3, Valerie DeMarinis4
1Family Medicine,Public health and Clinical medicine,Umeå University,Sweden, 2Family Medicine,Public health and Clinical medicine,Umeå University,Sweden, 3Family Medicine,Public health and Clinical medicine,Umeå University,Sweden, 4Departement of Theology,Uppsala University,Uppsala,Sweden
* = Presenting author
Objectives: To create knowledge regarding how people with a personal Christian faith relate to their mental illness, here focusing their understanding of negative mental health.
Background: Sweden is one of the world’s most secularized countries. Still, there is a great minority embracing a Christian faith. There is evidence regarding religious engagement being protective in case of mental illness. At the same time research shows that religious patients with mental illness experience inner conflicts in their contacts with secularized health care. Studies exploring and explaining such phenomena in a Scandinavian context are lacking.
Results: Four themes were identified; 1. Symptoms 2. Thoughts about the causes of illness. 3. Consequences 4. Thoughts about what gives relief and cure.

The participants’ understandings on these themes were similar to those which, according to the literature, are held by people in general. At the same time they revealed understandings that were founded in their Christian belief.

Under the theme “Thoughts about the causes of illness” they described what we came to name ”double explanations” to mental illness, where the scientific perspective existed side by side with their belief of spiritual explanations. Under the theme “”Thoughts about what gives relief and cure” They tended to turn in a large extent, to their religion to achieve those.

Material/Methods: A qualitative pilot-study based on thematically structured in-depth interviews with four people with a personal Christian faith and having experienced mental illness. They came from different Christian communities and were recruited through contacts in their church and the snowball method.

The interviews were analyzed according to Qualitative Content analysis.

Conclusion: A Christian faith might be an overlooked resource, or risk, for patients with mental illness. Living with ”double explanations”, as shown in this group, could bring worries and ambivalences that might be of great importance when these patients seek health care for their negative mental health. More knowledge is needed in the Swedish health care regarding these phenomena. This would most likely make it easier for people with a Christian faith when seeking health care for mental illness, and make it possible to use of their resources.
Points for discussion: Should we talk about religion with our patients? Should the fact that a certain patient has a Christian faith affect our work as General Practitioners when dealing with the patient´s mental illness? What additional knowledge do we need in this field?