How young adults experience existential concerns

In her previous work as a primary health care nurse, Maria Lundvall sometimes met young adults who sought support because they were unhappy, but who described that they did not always feel listened to or heard during their healthcare visits. 

“As I was simultaneously following news items about how mental illness is growing in this group, I become interested. Life issues seem to be something that we in healthcare sometimes have a hard time dealing with,” she said.

In the work on her doctoral thesis, she interviewed young adults aged 17-27 who sought help from healthcare: she also interviewed healthcare staff. Existential concerns are something that all people experience from time to time in life and do not necessarily imply mental illness.

“It is a natural phenomenon to ponder over the meaning of life, one's identity, and who one is, and we should talk more about it. In the young people I have interviewed, these concerns evoke feelings of being vulnerable, lost, and weak. It can feel like living close to a bottomless darkness and once they seek care, they have thought about their concerns for a long time and have already tried to solve them themselves,” said Maria Lundvall. 

Requires courage

She believes that it can be difficult to seek care for this type of issue. Telling someone about their doubts and worries requires courage because they feel that they are at risk of being judged, ignored, or singled out as weak. Often, young adults seek help for various physical symptoms instead, such as difficulty sleeping. The challenge for healthcare staff is then to dare to ask questions about what can be the cause of these sleeping difficulties. And if the person then opens up, it is important that the staff is then brave enough, first and foremost, to listen.

The young adults that Maria Lundvall interviewed tell about facing varying attitudes from healthcare staff. There are those who feel that they have not been heard and seen and those who have received only basic advice, which has made them withdraw again. There are also those who describe really good care healthcare visits.

What characterises a good healthcare visit?

“A really good healthcare visit is when the young adult and the caregiver meet in a relationship that is open and listening. Where the young adults get to put into words what they really feel. That in itself means a chance for recovery and an opportunity to gain strength,” said Maria Lundvall.

Her doctoral thesis contributes knowledge in an area that is not as well researched from a Caring Science perspective. Maria Lundvall describes her time as a doctoral student at the University of Borås as exciting and challenging, with good support from her supervisors.

“Now it feels great to be able to look forward to the next step; it feels exciting. I will return as a teacher in the Master’s programme for primary health care nurses and the basic training programme for nurses. I also hope to be able to continue research on the subject, with a focus on young people who have not sought support.”

What do you hope your doctoral thesis will contribute?

“I hope that it can provide an increased understanding of young adults' lives, so that we who meet them in healthcare settings can increase their opportunities for well-being. Young adults have a very great desire to understand their life situation. We must take advantage of it in healthcare, because that is where we can strengthen them to find their own strength to meet life's sometimes difficult challenges.”

Maria Lundvall defended her doctoral thesis Vulnerability, courage, and invitation - Young adults' pursuit of well-being in a life marked by existential concerns 15 January 2021. Main supervisor was Elisabeth Lindberg, co-supervisors Lina Palmér och Gunilla Carlsson. 

Läs mer

Maria Lundvall
The research area The Human Perspective in Care