Hollywood movies often depict people with mental diseases as weird, scary, or dangerous to others around them. However, unless you are a specialist, in reality it is rarely possible to recognize a mental illness in a person—even a person you communicate with often. People tend to hide such health problems; moreover, sometimes they can even be unaware of having mental issues. So, the stereotype about psychotic weirdos that mass culture actively enforces is, mildly speaking, exaggerated. At the same time, it is true that some mental illnesses can severely distort one’s behaviors, perception of reality, cognitive functions, and emotional reactions, which may make them potentially dangerous to themselves (in the first turn), and to people around them. For example, some forms of schizophrenia can be accompanied by violent and/or suicidal tendencies; or, Alzheimer disease can severely decrease the quality of a person’s life, and even lead to harm. And, although these diseases are certainly severe and can manifest themselves in a number of peculiar ways, there are mental illnesses that are stranger than fiction.
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All of us are aware of the popularity of zombie movies. The walking dead have become an irreplaceable element of contemporary mass culture. What is more shocking is that there are people who fit the description “living dead.” People suffering from Cotard’s syndrome develop a delusion that they have died. Despite indisputable logic that dead people cannot walk, talk, or think, patients with Cotard’s syndrome cannot shake their delusions off. For example, in 2012, Japanese doctors reported a man who addressed a hospital with the complaint about being dead. He wanted to get a second opinion just in case, but for him it was a fact. After approximately a year of therapy, the man got rid of the symptoms, but he still believed his condition was real. The same happened in 2008 with a 53-year-old New York lady who suddenly developed a conviction that she was dead, and smelled of rotting flesh. She asked her relatives to deliver her to morgue, so that she could stay with other dead people, but instead she was directed to psychiatrists, who quickly returned her back to normal. Sometimes, people with Cotard’s syndrome believe they lack organs, intestines, or limbs. For instance, Jules Cotard, who was the first to describe the disease, once treated a young woman who had developed a firm belief that she was missing her brain, chest, nerves, intestines, and that she was, generally speaking, hollow inside. At the same time, she believed that she was an immortal being, and had no need for nutrition. She died of starvation awhile after meeting Cotard (Mental Floss).
Continuing the grim topic of the living dead, there is an extremely odd disease called the Lesch-Nyhan syndrome. Although it is not entirely a mental disease, and has both physiological and neurological underlying conditions, it manifests itself in a rather extreme “psychotic” way. In particular, those who suffer from Lesch-Nyhan tend to mutilate themselves, and in some severe cases even eat parts of their own bodies (usually lips or fingers). It is said that in 60% of the cases, patients with this syndrome need to have their teeth removed in order to avoid dealing themselves severe trauma; fortunately, self-cannibalism is a less common manifestation of this syndrome. The Lesch-Nyhan syndrome is in general connected to impulse control issues, and is found almost exclusively in boys (Alternet).
Perhaps everyone knows about paranoia—a mental condition generally characterized with the sensation of being observed, followed, controlled, or manipulated. However, fewer people have heard of the Fregoli delusion—a condition that is characterized by a complex and peculiar system of beliefs a patient develops. In particular, the Fregoli delusion makes a person think that people he or she knows closely have been killed or kidnapped, and then substituted by impostors. People with the Fregoli delusion are afraid that these impostors impersonate people they love, and then follow them. Specialists are not sure about the origins of the disease, but assume it might develop because of organic brain damage (Stockton, Richard).
Mass culture continues to display mental illnesses as dangerous psychotic conditions. Although it is not necessarily true, and many people with mental diseases are harmless and mostly self-absorbed, there are some exotic psychological conditions Hollywood would gladly put on screen. One of them is Cotard’s syndrome: a disease during which a person develops a belief that he or she has died, or is missing one or multiple vital organs, or is immortal and does not require nutrition. An even more exotic sickness is the Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, which is characterized, among other symptoms, by self-mutilation and self-cannibalistic tendencies. There is also the Fregoli delusion—people suffering from it believe they are surrounded by impostors impersonating people dear to them. These, as well as other similar conditions, are rare, but still dangerous and requiring medical treatment.
“10 Case Reports of Cotard’s Delusion.” Mental Floss, 2 June 2013, mentalfloss.com/article/50197/plight-living-dead-10-case-reports-cotard%E2%80%99s-syndrome.
Gummow, Jodie. “12 Quirky Mental Disorders You Haven’t Heard About.” Alternet, 2 May 2014, www.alternet.org/personal-health/12-quirky-mental-disorders-you-havent-heard-about.
Stockton, Richard. “5 of the World’s Weirdest Mental Disorders.” AllThatsInteresting.com, 3 June 2014, allthatsinteresting.com/weird-mental-disorders.
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