December 6, 2010
You Say Mercedes, I say Mental Illness
Dan Neil, a Wall Street Journal reporter recently wrote this catchy description for a review of the new Mercedes CL63 AMG. While I thought this was a cute way to the describe how it feels to accelerate in the coupe, I could not stop thinking about how well these words describe the psychotic symptoms of mental illness, specifically the delusional and hallucinatory symptoms of schizophrenia and other thought disorders.
As an intern for Harbor UCLA Medical Center for the past three months, I have been exposed to a number of patients who are battling severe and persistent forms of schizophrenia. Patient's minds are often transfixed or paralyzed in nightmarish, violent, or persecutory states. Extreme distortions of reality can often have scary and real consequences.
For example, a patient was recently admitted to the inpatient unit after experiencing harrowing ideas of reference. Chorus lyrics from a rap song spoke to the patient in such a way, that he exhibited homicidal ideation towards members in his family. The patient internalized the lyrics and started to believe he was a God-like figure. He reasoned the only way he could preserve his status was to kill members of his family. Fortunately, the patient was admitted before he acted on any of these thoughts.
Another patient, also suffering from schizophrenia, held highly persecutory beliefs concerning her family. The patient was extremely paranoid, and believed her family worked for the FBI and they were plotting to kill her. The patient became distrustful of everyone around her, including her family and the treatment team.
As evidenced by these examples, patients succumb to an outside force that is much larger and stronger than themselves. As one does with a jai alai ball, these patients are figuratively swung around, flung high, and slammed by a disorder that pirates their perception of reality.
Outsiders might stigmatize these experiences as crazy, ridiculous or downright nonsensical. But to victims of mental illness, these experiences are tangible and overpowering. What is even more frustrating, is medicine to treat thought disorders does not suppress or eradicate delusions or hallucinations; patients simply have to learn to live with them.
Photo credit: Jamespot