May is Mental Health Awareness month aimed at stressing the importance of health and wellness in society and removing unwarranted stigmas associated with various psychological illnesses. Such exposure provides us with an opportunity to have meaningful dialogue about a topic many people know little about but often have much opinion. While most of us have heard about the most commonly discussed mental disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or schizophrenia, there are a number of unusual psychological conditions that are neglected by virtue of the fact that they are rare, bizarre or simply unknown.
Here is a list of not-so-common mental disorders that affect ordinary people, yet you probably haven’t read about them.
1. Walking Corpse Syndrome
No, this isn’t a disorder for those of us who have woken up feeling “dead tired.” Rather, Cotard’s Syndrome or Walking Corpse Syndrome as it's colloquially known, is a belief held by a person that she is actually dead, or simply doesn’t exist. It has been linked to depression as well as to those who are chronically deprived of sleep or suffer drug psychosis, but is still largely misunderstood by science.
The disorder has also been connected to Capgras Syndrome, a condition where a person thinks someone in her life has been replaced by an imposter or a duplicate. There is a division in the brain between the visual face recognition area and the part that associates emotional responses with that recognition, according to Psychology Today. Thus, a person suffering from either disorder may not even recognize herself and genuinely convinces herself that she doesn’t exist.
2. Alice In Wonderland Syndrome
Micropsia, nicknamed Alice In Wonderland Syndrome, is a visual neurological disease where a patient sees an object much, much smaller than it really is in real life, as if they were looking at the world “through the wrong end of a telescope” according to the Medical Journal of Psychiatry. The object perceived seems far away or in some cases extremely close at the same time, for example, a car may seem the size of a cat. The illness is not caused by any deficiency of the eye, but rather how the brain interprets the information received from the eyes. Migraines are said to be an important cause and feature of this disorder, which can also affect a person’s other senses such as hearing and touch. This illness is known to affect children aged between five and 10 and has also been linked to schizophrenia, psychoactive drugs and brain tumors.
While Hannibal Lecter enjoyed eating other people’s flesh, Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome is a disorder in which a person exhibits self-mutilating behavior or less commonly the consumption of his own body parts in a rare condition called autosarcophagy. Lesch-Nyhan affects the joints, muscles and brain of the sufferer as a result of the overproduction of uric acid in the body, leading to compulsive lip and finger biting in the majority of cases. Consequently, in 60 percent of cases, patients have to have their teeth removed to prevent them from biting off their lips, cheeks and tongues. The condition, occurring almost exclusively in boys, has been related to impulse control disorders in general and can range from mild to life threatening.
Sure, we’ve all gone through that narcissistic phase, thinking a person is madly in love us when it just isn’t so, but sufferers of Erotomania take infatuation to the next level. Those who suffer from this mental disorder hold a delusional belief that a person generally from a high social status, like a celebrity, is madly in love with them and making advances toward them through special glances, signals, telepathy or messages through the media. The patient then returns the alleged affection by letters or attempting to visit the unsuspecting recipient. The scary part of this disorder is that the patient’s feeling is so overwhelming that even when the perceived lover directly denies any sentiment of affection or the advances are clearly unwanted, the person remains unconvinced. Thus, the delusion is difficult to break. The condition is often confused with “obsessive love," unrequited love or hypersexuality, but according to Princeton University these conditions do not constitute erotomania by definition.
Ever identify as a sloth or dog on those lazy summer days where all you want to do is sleep in? Sufferers of the psychopathological phenomenon Lycanthropy actually believe they are a literal animal or at least being transformed into one. The condition is often classified as a self-identity disorder subdivided into various types. Boanthropy is the mental condition in which a person believes himself to be a cow or an ox and may very well be seen down on all fours chewing grass. Scientists believe the disorder can originate in a dream before enveloping the entire awakened mind of the individual.
6. Alien Hand Syndrome
No, this isn’t something out of a science fiction movie but certainly could be for those living this everyday real-life nightmare. Alien hand syndrome occurs when a person’s arm appears to move involuntarily or grab hold of things without the cognitive control of the person to whom the arm belongs. It is caused by a conflict between the left and right parts of the brain or mixing of damaged brain wires. Such a condition can often be traumatic for the sufferer who is terrified that her rogue arm might start exhibiting inappropriate behavior in public, like groping others or manipulating objects or tools giving a “feeling that one limb is foreign” or has a will of its own, according to the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. “I would make a telephone call and this hand would hang up the phone…I would light a cigarette and this one would put it out. I would be drinking coffee and this hand would dump it,” patient Karen Byrne described.
“She loves me, she loves me not, she loves me, she loves me not,” could certainly be the mantra of those who suffer from this generally unknown mental disorder characterized by crippling indecision, or as psychiatrists term it, “paralysis of the will.” Sufferers of aboulomania appear generally physically and mentally normal in all aspects of life. Yet, when faced with simple life choices like going for a walk or choosing a box of cereal, they run into major psychological problems to the point that they experience anxiety and difficulty regaining normal function. Many sufferers say their incapacity or chronic indecision originates from the need for 100% certainty—hence the sufferer can become paralyzed in the inability to fulfill his own free will when confronted with more than one choice, according to LSR Psychology. The condition has also been associated with depressive and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Synesthesia may be one of the hippest disorders on the planet. This neurological phenomenon occurs when stimulation of one sense leads to involuntary experiences in another sense or a “union of the senses,” where for example taste and sound are joined together. Some people experience color when they hear sounds or read words and may be able to answer a question like "What color is A?" Many people with this disorder use their experiences to create works of art —Pharrel Williams and Lady Gaga are both famous synaesthetes. In some cases, a person may mix sound and taste so that different noises have a taste in any combination. The condition isn’t considered a disease or much of an illness since its effects are not negative. "One thing we have found is that synesthetes are not a different class of people, they simply have more explicit experiences," Julia Simner, co-author of The Oxford Handbook of Synethesia told the Guardian. "It's a more extreme manifestation of what all of us experience.”
9. Foreign Accent Syndrome
Imagine being born British only to one day wake up with a Chinese accent. That is exactly what happened to Sarah Colwill, a British woman hospitalized for an intense migraine who after surgery awoke with a Chinese accent, which changed her whole life having to deal with other people’s bewildered reactions and come to terms with her new voice. Foreign Accent Syndrome, as it is called, is a very rare disorder characterized by the sudden and unexpected appearance of a seemingly “foreign” accent, which often occurs after some kind of brain injury like a stroke or head injury. The sufferer will begin speaking her native language in a foreign tongue. There have been 50 recorded cases of this syndrome, which apparently has no clear cause or cure, since the 1940s. The condition can last a few hours or become permanent. Linda Walker, 50, recalls waking from a stroke to find that her English Geordie accent had been transformed into a Jamaican one: "I've lost my identity, because I never talked like this before. I'm a very different person and it's strange and I don't like it,” she told the BBC.
10. Genital Retraction Syndrome
Talk about mass penis panic. Genital Retraction Syndrome or Koro syndrome is a psychiatric disorder in which a person suffers acute anxiety over a deep-seated fear that his genitals—or breasts in the case of women—are shrinking or retracting into the abdomen until they disappear upon which he/she will die. The condition is seen mostly in Southeast Asian countries where throughout history there have been reports of mass public panic and hysteria over shrinkage concerns.
11. The Jumping Frenchmen of Maine
Yes, this really is the name of this bizarre disorder which occurs when a person becomes extremely startled by an unexpected noise or sight and begins exhibiting an unusual response such as involuntarily flailing his arms, crying out or repeating words. The exact cause of Jumping Frenchmen is unknown, but was first identified in 1878 in some of Maine’s lumberjacks of French-Canadian descent and is thought to belong to other culturally specific disorders such as startle-matching syndromes. This odd reflex has also been identified in other parts of the world and has been linked to the neurological disorder, Coprolalia, a form of Tourette’s characterized by involuntary outbursts of obscene language.
Pica is a disorder in which people have a compulsion to eat things that have no nutritional value, or non-food substances such as wood or paint, that continues for more than one month. The disorder is characterized into subtypes including Coprophagy, consumption of feces; Geophagy, the consumption of soil, clay or dirt; Hyalophagia, the consumption of glass; Tricophagia, consumption of hair or wool; or Urophagia, consumption of urine. Pica can be particularly dangerous because it can cause lead poisoning, gastrointestinal blockages or stomach lining tears when a person ingests harmful substances or sharp metal objects. It has been linked to iron or mineral deficiencies or chemical imbalance, but experts haven’t conclusively determined its cause or a cure. It is often seen in pregnant women, small children and those with learning difficulties like autism. Between 4 and 6 percent of institutionalized populations are thought to suffer from Pica, according to The Handbook of Clinical Child Psychology, WebMD reports.