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Popular Psychosis - Poem by gershon hepner

Saudi Arabia has a popular psychosis:
Some people think they’re covered up with sand;
scientific name of this psychosis, turabosis,
is hardly known at all outside that land.
In France psychotics thought they were Napoleon,
and used to think here in United States
that they were Lincoln, Roosevelt or Washington,
but now they all believe that they’re Bill Gates,
except a few who are far more sophisticated,
and think that they are Warren Buffet. Clearly
psychosis is like culture that’s extrapolated
beyond absurdity, though it can nearly
drive even people who are normal mad. Here in
the western word it is computer chips
placed in the brain sometimes, or just below the skin,
that cause the paranoid psychotic trips.
The worst of all psychoses is religion. Terror
emerges as psychosis from belief;
psychiatrists can’t cure a stupid, lethal error
that has the glamor of Omar Sharif.

Sarah Kershaw discusses the cultural influences on psychosis (“Look Closely, Doctor: See the Camera? ” NYT, August 28,2008) :
One way of looking at the delusions and hallucinations of the mentally ill is that they represent extreme cases of what the general population, or the merely neurotic, are worried about. Schizophrenics and other paranoid patients can take common fears — like identity theft because of information transmitted on the Internet, or the loss of privacy because of the prevalence of security cameras to fight crime — and magnify them, psychiatrists say. “There is the old saying that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there’s not somebody after you, ” said Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University. The prevailing view in psychiatry is that a delusion is just a delusion, psychosis is psychosis, and the scenery is incidental. Fear, a sense of persecution and grandiosity are static features of delusional thinking, many psychiatrists say. During World War II, for example, psychotics might have believed a neighbor was a Nazi. During the cold war, they might have thought the K.G.B. or C.I.A. was following them. In a post-Sept.11 world, the persecutor might be Al Qaeda or the Department of Homeland Security. “Cultural influences don’t tell us anything fundamental about delusion, ” said Vaughan Bell, a psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College in London, who has studied Internet delusion. “We can look at the influence of television, computer games, rock ’n’ roll, but these things don’t tell us about new forms of being mentally ill, ” said Dr. Bell, who said he had also treated patients who believed they were part of a reality television show.
British psychiatrists, writing in this month’s edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry about the phenomenon, called it the Truman syndrome and said they had seen a growing number of patients claiming to be the stars of a filmed reality show. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a delusion, considered still to be little understood in psychiatry, as, essentially, a false belief that is not grounded in reality and that is held with absolute conviction despite proof to the contrary. The manual lists a caveat that a belief is not delusional if it is something widely accepted by other members of a person’s culture or subculture — for example, religious faith. But some psychiatrists say the exception is too vague. Some experts studying conditions like Truman Show delusion and other culture-bound delusions, which are specific to a time or place, are questioning the premise that culture is only incidental to psychosis, even as a growing body of evidence has pointed to brain abnormalities and other biological causes for illnesses like schizophrenia. Psychiatrists have studied delusions like turabosis, which is the belief that one is covered in sand, and which has been documented in Saudi Arabia but would be unlikely to occur in, say, North Dakota. Another study found a delusion occurring only in rural West Bengal, India, in which women and men bitten by dogs believe they have become pregnant with puppies. Dr. Joel Gold, who is writing a book about Truman Show delusion with his brother, said that three of the five patients he saw with the condition specifically mentioned the film. He said what distinguishes this delusion from most others is that it involves the patient’s entire world, and everything real is unreal. Other delusions are typically narrowly focused — there is a microchip in my brain, aliens are trying to abduct me, I’ve been to Mars — and in those, things that are not real become real.

8/28/08


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