10 Rare Mental Health Conditions
| 7 Min Read
Mental health issues in the United States are very common, affecting millions of Americans. In fact, an estimated 50% of all Americans are diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in the lifetime. Mental illnesses like depression are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the United States among people ages 18 to 44.
Disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder are relatively well-understood. However, some conditions are so rare that mental health professionals may never encounter them. Here are five of the rarer mental health conditions.
Rare Mental Health Conditions
Khyâl cap or “wind attacks” is a syndrome found among Cambodians in the United States and Cambodia. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), common symptoms are similar to those of panic attacks, including dizziness, palpitations, shortness of breath, and cold extremities, along with symptoms of anxiety and autonomic arousal, such as tinnitus and neck soreness.
These attacks are centered on khyâl, a wind-like substance, rising in the body and the blood, causing a range of serious effects. They may occur without warning, and these attacks usually meet the criteria for panic attacks. A study in Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry found that Cambodian refugees with posttraumatic stress disorder often complain of these attacks. It involves a great fear that death might occur from bodily dysfunction.
Khyâl cap is an example of a cultural syndrome, or a syndrome that tends to co-occur among individuals in specific cultural groups, communities, or contexts.
Another cultural syndrome in the DSM-5 is Kufungisisa, or “thinking too much.” It is found among the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
In many cultures, “thinking too much” is considered to be damaging to the mind and body, causing specific symptoms like headaches and dizziness. Kufungisisa involves ruminating on upsetting thoughts, particularly worries. As a cultural expression, it is considered to be causative to anxiety, depression, and somatic problems (e.g., “my heart is painful because I think too much”). As an idiom, it is indicative of interpersonal and social difficulties.
“Thinking too much” is a common idiom of distress and cultural explanation across many countries and ethnic groups, including Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America, and among East Asian and Native American groups.
3. Clinical Lycanthropy
Clinical lycanthropy involves a delusion that the affected person can transform into an animal. It is often associated with turning into a wolf or werewolf; the name of the syndrome originates from the mythical condition of lycanthropy, or shapeshifting into wolves.
People with clinical lycanthropy believe that they can take the form of any particular animal. During this delusion or hallucination, affected individuals can act like the animal. For instance, people may act like wolves and be found in forests and wooded areas. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences labels clinical lycanthropy as a type of delusional misidentification syndrome.
4. Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder
The separation from oneself, one’s surroundings, or both describes the altered state of depersonalization/derealization disorder. Patients who have this disorder feel they are observing themselves from outside their own body. They may also believe that things aren’t real, as though their surroundings are distorted or time is speeding up or slowing down.
One or both of these tendencies can lead to depersonalization/derealization disorder. Symptoms must be persistent to qualify for a diagnosis because, according to Psychology Today, it is normal to feel this way briefly due to side effects of medication, recreational drugs, or some other physical or mental health condition.
5. Diogenes Syndrome
The compulsive hoarding of rubbish and seemingly random items is the main feature of Diogenes Syndrome, which is found mainly in the elderly and is associated with progressive dementia. Other characteristics include extreme self-neglect, apathy, social withdrawal, and a lack of shame.
The syndrome is a misnomer, as it is named after the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope. Diogenes was a Cynic who, according to the philosophy he helped found, rejected the desire for wealth, power, and fame, choosing to live free from all possessions. He found virtue in poverty, slept in a large ceramic jar, and sought social interaction.
6. Stendhal Syndrome
Those with Stendhal syndrome experience physical and emotional anxiety as well as panic attacks, dissociative experiences, confusion, and hallucinations when exposed to art. These symptoms are usually triggered by “art that is perceived as particularly beautiful or when the individual is exposed to large quantities of art that are concentrated in a single place,” such as a museum or gallery, according to Medscape. However, individuals may experience similar reactions to beauty in nature. This syndrome is named after a 19th-century French author who experienced the symptoms during a trip to Florence in 1817. Stendhal syndrome may also be called hyperculturemia or Florence syndrome.
Also known as body integrity identity disorder, apotemnophilia is characterized by the “overwhelming desire to amputate healthy parts of [the] body.” Though not much is known about it, this disorder is believed to be neurological. Those affected may attempt to amputate their own limbs or damage the limb so that surgical amputation is necessary. Apotemnophilia may be related to damage to the right parietal lobe in the brain. The condition is challenging to treat because people experiencing it often do not seek treatment. However, both cognitive behavioral therapy and aversion therapies can be attempted in order to treat apotemnophilia once treatment is sought.
8. Alien Hand Syndrome
This syndrome is characterized by the belief that one’s hand has its own life and doesn’t belong to oneself. Individuals experiencing alien hand syndrome have normal sensation but feel their hand is autonomous. Those with alien hand syndrome may personify the limb as a separate entity: The unaffected hand is under the individual’s control while the affected hand has its own agenda. This syndrome may occur in individuals who have damage to the corpus callosum, which connects the two cerebral hemispheres of the brain. Other causes include stroke and damage to the parietal lobe. The hands then appear to be in “intermanual conflict” or “ideomotor apraxia,” meaning they act in opposition to one another.
9. Capgras Syndrome
This syndrome is named for Joseph Capgras, a French psychiatrist who explored the illusion of doubles. Those with Capgras syndrome hold the delusional belief that someone in their life, usually a spouse, close friend, or family member, has been replaced by an impostor. It can occur in patients with schizophrenia, dementia, or epilepsy and after traumatic brain injury. Treatment approaches mirror those utilized for the underlying disorders and often include antipsychotic medications.
10. Alice in Wonderland Syndrome
Also known as Todd syndrome, Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AIWS) is a neurological condition in which one’s perception of their body image, time, or space is distorted. Those experiencing AIWS may have hallucinations, sensory distortion, and an altered sense of velocity. Though there are many symptoms, the most prevalent one is altered body image: Patients are confused about the size and shape of parts of their bodies. These symptoms can trigger panic and fear responses. AIWS is often associated with frequent migraines, brain tumors, or drug use and can affect children between the ages of five and 10.
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