Rare Mental Ailments

One of the most interesting tidbits you can provide at a dinner party are weird rare mental disorders. It seems that whatever mental disorder you can imagine probably exists, from things like thinking that your mirror reflection is actually a real person looking back at you (I saw this on Cracked, and it’s called mirrored-self misidentification), to being certain that you’re already dead. Here are some that I’ve found that you may or may not have seen before.

1. Capgras Syndrome (also linked to Cotard Syndrome)

Capgras Syndrome manifests as a person being quite positive that his family members are not really his family members, but imposters who look like them. This results from an injury in the brain that cuts off the link between the visual centre and the amygdala — the emotional centre of the brain. Capgras Syndrome is more often than not the result of injury, and basically the person ends up not feeling any of the warm positive emotions they had before when looking at their loved ones. As they say, if you feel odd in front of the person, then there must be something wrong with the person, right?

Incidentally, this feeling also extends to places. He may also think that his home is not actually his home, even if it looks like it. It’s quite a sense of disorientation.

However, the good news is that it’s exclusively the visual centre that is affected. When the person hears the voice of his loved ones, he has no doubt at all that they are the real deal.

This is related to Cotard Syndrome, where the person is convinced that he has died and wherever he is in is Hell. It is because he also feels no emotion when looking around him, and reasons this time that he must be dead, which is why he feels nothing.

I can imagine how these people have to feel. It must be unsettling to see someone you love and no longer feel love, or even familiarity, for them.

2. Foerster’s Syndrome

An incident occurred in 1929 when neurosurgeon Ottrid Foerster was operating on a patient who had a tumour. He was performing surgery on the area when suddenly the patient burst into a “manic flight of puns”. Yes, the Foerster’s Syndrome describes a condition of “compulsive punning”, where each word leads to another by sound association, and in Foerster’s case all had something to do with knives or butchery.

On a more common note, there is a condition named Witzelsucht which is a tendency to make puns or tell inappropriate jokes in socially inappropriate situations. A rarer version of it is hypersexuality, which is making inappropriate sexual comments. There is a neurological basis for this, of course, and is not just because of the person being a dick.

3. Olfactory reference syndrome

This syndrome is particularly sad, but I believe possibly quite common. The whole syndrome basically revolves around a person believing that he emits an abnormal foul body odour, and that whenever people sniff around him or open the windows, it must be because of his terrible smell. Of course, such people would end up isolating themselves from society. Such people may claim that the smell comes from their mouth, genitals, skin, or that they don’t know where it comes from. They also differ in their claim of what smell it is. It could be a smell of faeces or urine, or a smell of ammonia or rotten onions. Either way, the person gets very embarrassed.

4. Smile mask syndrome

This isn’t very strange, but I wanted to bring it up because it is a very real condition we should take seriously. Smile mask syndrome is a state of depression and stress brought about by smiling too much. Naturally it is most obvious in the service industry, and also in countries like Japan and Korea where smiling is very important for social and workplace relations, and affects women more than men. Basically all this fake smiling gives them stress, muscle aches and headaches, and other psychological complications. Not only that, apparently when they related their mental distress to the psychiatrist, they were still smiling without knowing it.

Of course, if one looks at some salesmen in Singapore, one would not think they would ever have this disease. However, I start wondering if celebrities like Koike Teppei, whose livelihood is in smiling, might experience such symptoms too.

5. Fregoli delusion

Fregoli delusion is an interesting opposite to the Capgras delusion, in that in this case the person thinks that different people are actually the same person in disguise. That said, there are very very uncommon cases of both delusions co-existing. Not sure how it plays out.

It’s like how people like to say that you don’t know if different people on the internet are actually the same person using a different account. This is also linked to a belief that this one person is persecuting them, and is of course related to prosopagnosia, the inability to recognise faces.

Something somewhat associated is reduplicative paramnesia, where the person insists that a particular place is duplicated. So, say you’re in NUS. You insist that this NUS is not the NUS you’re familiar with, but that it is a duplicated NUS in Malaysia that looks precisely alike. In addition, you insist also that the people working in this NUS also work in that NUS, which is why you see all the same people.

6. Somatoparaphrenia

Somatoparaphrenia is the belief that a limb, or an entire side of your body, is not yours. Sometimes the person even cares for the limb and takes care of it as if it were a separate entity.

Apparently the way to treat it is to ask patients to look into a mirror. Through the mirror reflection, patients are convinced that indeed, it is their limb. However, once the mirror is taken away the delusion returns.

7. The Truman Show delusion

The Truman Show delusion is basically the person being convinced that he is in something like the Truman Show, where his entire life is just 1 staged show and their family and friends are paid actors.

The reason this delusion was so named is because 3 of the 5 patients that the researchers initially met had cited the show explicitly to link their perceived experiences. A powerful show indeed.


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