The Peculiar World of Mental Disorders

  By Koytra Eleni, Pantazopoulou Andriani & Chatzi Aggeliki 


A mental disorder, also called a mental illnessor psychiatric disorder, is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines. The use of the term «mental» (i.e., of the mind) is not necessarily meant to imply separateness from brain or body. There are many different categories of mental disorders, such as:

  • Anxiety disorders: In which anxiety, irrational stress, or fear interfere with the sufferer’s normal functioning. Most well-known of this category are  phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and  post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Mood disorders: In which certain affective (mood/emotion) processes are damaged. Well-known examples of such disorders are major depression (also known as unipolar or clinical depression), bipolar disorder and dysthymia.
  • Psychotic disorders:  In which patterns of belief, language use and perception of reality can become disordered. Most common are schizophrenia and delusional disorder
  • Personality disorders: In which the fundamental characteristics of a person that influence thoughts and behaviors across situations and time are damaged for a long period of time. There are three main sub-categories of personality disorders:
  • The «eccentric», such as paranoid, schizoid and schizotypal personality disorders
  • The «dramatic» or «emotional», such as antisocial, borderline, histrionic or narcissistic personality disorders
  • The  fear-related, such as anxious-avoidant, dependent, or obsessive-  compulsive personality disorders
  • Eating disorders:  In which the patient develops a disproportionate concern in matters of food and weight. Some such disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, exercise bulimia and binge-eating disorder.
  •  Sleep disorders such as insomnia, which involve disruption to normal sleep patterns, or a feeling of tiredness despite sleep appearing normal
  • Impulse control disorders: In which the sufferer is abnormally unable to resist certain urges or impulses that could be harmful to themselves or others. Most well-known from this category are kleptomania, pyromania and certain types of addiction.
  • Substance use disorders: In which a person is dependent on/abusing mostly illegal substances, such as alcohol, drugs or cigarettes
  • Dissociative identity disorders: In which the patient experiences severe disturbances of their self-identity, memory and general awareness of themselves and their surroundings. Most common are depersonalization disorderDissociative Identity Disorder (which has also been called multiple personality disorder, or «split personality”), amnesia and dementia.
  • Developmental disorders: They manifest during childhood. Most common are autism spectrum disorders, such as oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

  Now we are going to focus on some peculiar and rare mental disorders, which can be so singular and perplexing that they weren’t even accepted as legitimate disorders until recently. Some change the way language is used and perceived. Other unusual disorders do the same to vision or motor skills. And some are so bizarre that they alter a patient’s accent or make them believe they’re an entirely different species. Sufferers of these illnesses can lose control of their limbs, see afterimages everywhere, think their loved ones are imposters, and – in one inexplicable case – are made violently ill by the sound of one TV news anchor’s voice.

  • Aboulomania: This generally unknown mental disorder is characterized by crippling indecision, or as psychiatrists calls it, “paralysis of the will.” Sufferers of aboulomania appear mentally normal in all aspects of life. Yet, when faced with simple life choices like whether to wear a jacket or not, they run into major psychological problems to the point that they experience anxiety and may even find it difficult to regain normal function. Many sufferers say their 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. The condition has also been associated with depressive and obsessive-compulsive disorders.


  • Cotard’s syndrome (walking corpse syndrome): is a specific nihilistic delusion named after Jules Cotard, a French neurologist, who first described the condition, which he called le délire de négation (negation delirium), in 1880. The affected person holds the delusional belief that he or she is already dead, does not exist, is putrefying or has lost his or her blood or internal organs. It is most frequently observed in patients with psychotic depression or schizophrenias and is managed by focusing on the treatment of the underlying disorder. In 2015 a seventeen-year-old girl from Alabama overcame this disorder with the help of Disney movies. She had thought she was dead for three years and only became convinced that she was alive only because of the warm and fuzzy feeling she got from watching Disney cartoons


  • Capgrass syndrome: Named after a French psychiatrist who described the illusion of doubles, capgrass syndrome is a delusion of misidentification. which manifests as a reoccurring false perception that an acquaintance (usually a spouse or family member) has been replaced by an identical impostor or group of impostors. Capgras syndrome occurs most often in patients with schizophrenia, although it has also been reported in patients with dementia or epilepsy and after traumatic brain injury. It is also more common amongst women than men. In 2011, a woman refused to pick up her daughter from school because, as she insisted, the teachers should give her her “real child” back instead of the “fake”.


  • Fregoli syndrome: It’s the inverse of Capgras syndrome, named after the Italian actor Leopoldo Fregoli, who was renowned for his ability to make quick changes of appearance during his stage act. It is also a delusion of misidentification and is characterized by a person’s delusional belief that persecutors or familiar people can assume the guise of strangers, in that different people are in fact a single person who changes his or her appearance or who appears in disguise. As in Capgras syndrome, Fregoli syndrome occurs most often in patients with schizophrenia, although it has also been reported in patients with dementia or epilepsy and after traumatic brain injury.


  • Alien hand syndrome: Also known as “Dr. Strangelove Syndrome”, after the mad scientist unable to control his Nazi-saluting arm in the Stanley Kubrick film, this rare disorder is the misattribution and belief that one’s hand does not belong to oneself, but that it has its own life. The afflicted person has normal sensation but believes that the hand, while still being a part of their body, is acting autonomously, having «a will of its own.» In effect, afflicted people lose the sense of «ownership» of the limb, while often personifying it, believing it to be «possessed» by some spirit or entity. There is a clear distinction between the behaviors of the 2 hands in which the affected hand is viewed as «wayward» while the unaffected hand is under normal volitional control. Alien hand syndrome is usually caused by stroke or other brain damage, particularly in the areas of the corpus callosum, or frontal or parietal lobes. Such a condition can often be traumatic for the sufferer who is terrified that their rogue arm might start exhibiting inappropriate behavior in public, like groping others or manipulating objects or tools. “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


  • Autophagia (Self cannibalism/autosarcophagy/Lesch-Nyhan syndrome): It 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. One example of autophagia is the case of one man whose condition apparently began by merely biting his own nails—but ended up with such a problem that he severely mutilated his fingers.


  • Lycanthropy: Sufferers of the psychopathological phenomenon Lycanthropy actually believe they are an animal or at least being transformed into one. The condition is often classified as a self-identity disorder subdivided into various types. Scientists believe the disorder can originate in a dream before enveloping the entire awakened mind of the individual. Boanthropy is an aspect of this strange delusional disorder whereby a person believes himself to be a cow or an ox. Some people think that the disorder usually starts out as a dream and goes on to pervade the waking mind, eventually taking hold as a full-blown delusion. It’s possible that the condition can be induced by hypnotism, provided that the subject is more than a little suggestible. Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, is generally thought to have suffered from this condition—at least according to the Book of Daniel, which states that he “was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen.”


  • Foreign accent syndrome: 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. 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.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.


  • Landau-Kleffner syndrome: Landau-Kleffner syndrome (LKS) is a rare form of epilepsy, which usually begins in children between 2 and 8 years old and affects both sexes equally, especially children with previous age-appropriate development. The language disorder may start suddenly or slowly. It usually affects the child’s understanding of spoken language the most, although it may affect both understanding speech and speaking ability, or speaking only.


  • Synesthesia: 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 mixed together. Some people experience colour when they hear sounds or read words and may be able to answer a question like «What color is 4?». This condition is most useful to artists, with Pharrell Williams and Lady Gaga being both famous synesthetes. 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 Synesthesia told the Guardian. «It’s a more extreme manifestation of what all of us experience.”


Here’s an additional explanatory video if you want to get to know more about synesthesia:        


In conclusion, the human mind never ceases to amaze us with all its complexity. It is the most complex machine ever created; and the most ubiquitous. Although  everyone has one, we still have little to no understanding of how it works. Even its illnesses and flaws can be fascinating. Those listed are only a few of the wonderful yet monstrous things that are likely to happen once something goes wrong with it. We all hope we inspired you to dive further into this peculiar world.