Belief in demonic influence has repeatedly been described as a delusion in schizophrenic patients. The goal of this explorative study was to examine the frequency, as well as the psychodynamic and social functions of such beliefs in a sample of nondelusional patients.
The sample consisted of 343 psychiatric outpatients who described themselves as religious. In semistructured interviews they were asked to give their view of demonic causality of their illness.
A high prevalence of such beliefs was not only found in schizophrenic patients (56%) but also in the following groups of nondelusional patients: affective disorders (29%), anxiety disorders (48%), personality disorders (37%) and adjustment disorders (23%). Belief in demonic oppression tended to be associated with lower educational level and rural origin, and was significantly influenced by church affiliation.
Beliefs in possession or demonic influence are not confined to delusional disorders and should not be qualified as a mere delusion. Rather they have to be interpreted against the cultural and religious background which is shaping causal models of mental distress in the individual.
- [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]