Background: Exceptional experiences (EE) are experiences that deviate from ordinary experiences, for example precognition, supernatural appearances, or déjà vues. In spite of the high frequency of EE in the general population, little is known about their effect on mental health and about the way people cope with EE. This study aimed to assess the quality and quantity of EE in persons from the Swiss general population, to identify the predictors of their help-seeking, and to determine how many of them approach the mental health system.
Methods: An on-line survey was used to evaluate a quota sample of 1580 persons representing the Swiss general population with respect to gender, age, and level of education. Multinomial logistic regression was applied to integrate help-seeking, self-reported mental disorder, and other variables in a statistical model designed to identify predictors of help-seeking in persons with EE.
Results: Almost all participants (91%) experienced at least one EE. Generally, help-seeking was more frequent when the EE were of negative valence. Help-seeking because of EE was less frequent in persons without a self-reported mental disorder (8.6%) than in persons with a disorder (35.1%) (OR = 5.7). Even when frequency and attributes of EE were controlled for, people without a disorder sought four times less often help because of EE than expected. Persons with a self-reported diagnosis of mental disorder preferred seeing a mental health professional. Multinomial regression revealed a preference for healers in women with less education, who described themselves as believing and also having had more impressive EE.
Conclusion: Persons with EE who do not indicate a mental disorder less often sought help because of EE than persons who indicated a mental disorder. We attribute this imbalance to a high inhibition threshold to seek professional help. Moreover, especially less educated women did not approach the mental health care system as often as other persons with EE, but preferred seeing a healer.