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Friday, 4 February, 2000, 02:17 GMT
Out of body - not out of mind

NDEs often happen on the operating table


People who report near death experiences are undergoing a normal psychological response to intense stress, say researchers.

A US study indicates that people who report a near death experience (NDE) should not be treated as though they are mentally ill.

NDEs are sometimes reported to occur when a patient has been brought back from the brink of losing their life.

Reported experiences typically include the sensation of leaving the body and looking down on it from above.

Another commonly reported experience is the sensation of travelling through a tunnel towards a light source, or being enveloped by light.

Many also report having encountered deceased relatives.

To read about one woman's near death experience, click here.

Report author Dr Bruce Greyson, whose work is published in The Lancet medical journal, said that other experiences reported by patients included:

  • Accelerated thought processes
  • A "life review"
  • Intense feelings of peace and joy
  • The feeling of being in an unearthly realm

    Patients quizzed

    Dr Greyson, who is based at the University of Virginia, asked 134 people who had been close to death to complete questionnaires.

    They were asked whether they had experienced NDE, and how they had experienced it.

    He found that 96 patients reported an NDE.

    And although many of the 96 reported feelings of dissociation from their bodies - a symptom usually attributed to psychiatric disorder - these feelings were generally mild.

    His report outlines: "Dissociation is the separation of thoughts, feelings, or experiences from the normal stream of consciousness and memory."

    Symptoms can range from daydreaming to serious psychiatric disorders in which one's body seems to belong to someone else.

    Patients who had an NDE reported more symptoms of dissociation than those who did not.

    Dr Greyson said this indicated that while a patient does lapse into an altered state of consciousness when experiencing an NDE, it does not mean that they are necessarily suffering psychiatric illness.

    He said: "This study contributes to the growing evidence that near-death experiences are not symptoms of psychiatric disorders and that experiencers should not be treated as mentally ill."

    Dr Greyson believes more research into this area could also unlock the psychological secrets of mystic and transcendental experiences.

    To read about one woman's near death experience, click here.

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    See also:
    04 Feb 00 |  Health
    Life after near death

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