ABSTRACT Per G. SWARTLING
Per G. SWARTLING
– Medical Director of the “National Board of Health and Welfare”
Psychiatric Problems in Ex-Members of the Faith movement Word of Life
- “The Faith Movement Word of Life” is a neo-Christian group made up of many congregations and from a private “Word of Life” biblical school. This doctrine, kept secret from the outside world, asserts that God is the source of all that is said within the group. Any criticism of the movement is therefore viewed as a criticism of God himself. Satan and his demons also play a significant role in this doctrine: problems, sexual desire and illnesses are therefore presented as the devil’s actions. Members wanting to leave the group are threatened with all sorts of tragedies. These beliefs generate an oppressive self-censorship in both current and past members.
- Dr. SWARTLING and his wife, an occupational therapist, have studied the mental state of a group of forty-three similar former students of this bible school, based on semi-structured interviews.
- The speaker grouped his results around the social and above all psychiatric effects of participating in “Word of Life”.
- Many former students reported a deterioration of their family and social connections, and restrictions on their areas of interest after their induction into the group.
- The majority of former members also bore witness to the appearance of psychiatric symptoms following their participation in “Word of Life”.
- Difficulties in controlling their emotions, anxiousness/panic attacks and feelings of guilt, nightmares and trouble sleeping for almost all former cult members.
- Concentration problems and difficulties in taking decisions and in social contact for three-quarters of the interviewees.
- Feelings of loss of identity, psychosomatic symptoms and suicidal thoughts for three-fifths of former students.
- Symptoms of psychosis for almost half the young people questioned and suicide attempts in almost a quarter of them.
- The number of students having used psychiatric treatment considerably increased after they started attending the bible school, compared to the period before this: a fourfold increase in the percentage of interviewees having consulted a psychiatrist and thirteen times the percentage of those held in psychiatric establishments – with the length of this detention spread between, except in one case, one week and over three months.
- Over half of the interviewees took sick leave for periods running from two months for the majority of them, up to over a year.
- This study therefore shows significant, long-term psychiatric problems, similar to that found in former cult followers (Krishna, for example).
- In his conclusion, Dr. SWARTLING stressed the urgent need to set up a rehabilitation centre in Sweden, and the need for passing new legislation in terms of healthcare, particularly as regards the protection of children.
Debate: Dr. SWARTLING stated that most Swedish MPs were opposed to trying to legislate against mental manipulation for fear of encroaching on civil liberties. Another speaker then recalled that in France, debates centred around the ABOUT-PICARD law showed evidence of similar fears.