Big Brain Energy: Exploring rare, unknown mental illnesses

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asian man with mental illness moving head in dark studio
Photo by Vijay Sadasivuni on Pexels.com

When we think of mental illnesses, we often think of the classic versions of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder. However, there are other harrowing disorders that occur relatively infrequently in the general population, but deserve equal attention and research.  

Capgras Syndrome 

This rare psychological disorder is characterized by a strong belief that those around you, including your loved ones, have been replaced by imposters. The disease is believed to be an aspect of other disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia. Individuals are also at risk for Capgras Syndrome if they suffer a traumatic brain injury in the back right hemisphere, where facial recognition processes take place. Because of the limited research on the disorder, treatment often aims to help comorbidities such as schizophrenia, if the patient has a diagnosed case. Often, supportive environments and validation therapy will help the patient feel safe and understand the feelings about their delusions are heard.  

This video portrays an excellent example of individual with Capgras Syndrome. Video retrieved via YouTube.

Alien Hand Syndrome 

This neurological disorder is characterized by one hand (and, in more rare cases, one leg) acting on its own free will without any awareness or cognitive processes from the owner. It can develop as a result of a stroke, severe brain trauma or cancer. Often, those with severe epilepsy who pursue surgery to separate their two brain hemispheres at the corpus callosum can also experience this disorder. Sufferers are often unable to control the hand that acts independently and the tasks that hand attempts to complete are often incorrect or redundant. Treatments are scarce, but muscle control therapies and other visual therapies can help.   

Cotard’s Syndrome (Walking Corpse Syndrome) 

This neurological disorder is characterized by a strong belief that parts of the patient’s body are missing, or that the patient is dead or actively dying. Sufferers often tend to become asocial, engage in self-harm behaviors and claim to hear voices that tell them they are dying. The disorder often occurs in tandem with severe depression and certain psychotic illnesses. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has been shown to alleviate symptoms, but antidepressants, antipsychotics and psychological therapy can also help.  

woman walking on grass
Sufferers of Cotard’s Syndrome (Walking Corpse Syndrome) tend to become asocial, engage in self-harm behaviors and claim to hear voices that tell them they are dying. Photo by Flora Westbrook on Pexels.com

Body Integrity Dysphoria  

This rare disorder, which blurs the lines between psychiatry and neurology, is classified by an undesirable urge to amputate parts of one’s body or to become paraplegic. It has long been believed to be the result of a pathological desire driven by sexual obsessions, but recent research has revealed the possibly of injury to the right parietal lobe, which distorts the sufferer’s body image, further convincing them to undergo an amputation. There have been scarce reports of sufferers actively seeking to injure body limbs so that doctors are forced to amputate the limb. Sufferers might also utilize crutches or prostheses to enhance their belief that they are disabled. Treatment methods are unknown, but cognitive-behavioral therapy may help.  

Clinical Lycantrophy 

This rare psychiatric condition is characterized by a delusion in which the sufferer believes they are an animal or are transforming into an animal, such as a wolf. They may claw, growl and become convinced they have sharp teeth and fur all over their body. The condition is thought to be a manifestation of schizophrenia or severe depression. While it is often believed to be a result of brain injury or other alterations, scientists also believe ideas of folklore and mythology in popular culture can also influence these conditions. The best form of treatment is to address the underlying disorders from which this condition manifests.  

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