Weird, wacky & wonderful- Cotard delusion

Feeling like death in the most literal sense; Ciara Ritson-Courtney reports the curious confusion of Cotard delusion

2nd November 2015

Cotard delusion is a rare mental illness more commonly known as the ‘walking corpse’ syndrome. Sufferers vary in their symptoms with many genuinely believe they are dead, don’t exist as a person, are putrefying or are missing body parts. It has been suggested that the disorder is related to other mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia but there has been little research to confirm such an assertion.

This nihilistic disorder was first identified in 1880 when a patient known as ‘Madame X’ went to the neurologist Jules Cotard claiming she had no body parts, no soul and was dead. She thought she couldn’t die as she was already dead and, therefore, had no need to eat; she died of starvation soon after the consultation.

“When the patients are relapsing, their brain resembles that of someone during anaesthesia or asleep”

Another patient was known to have died of the condition by pouring acid over themselves in an attempt to stop being one of the ‘walking dead’. Patients not only have been known to stop eating but also to stop sleeping, using the bathroom and to spend time in graveyards attempting to socialise with people they feel they can relate to.

“She thought she couldn’t die as she was already dead”

The delusion is caused by a defect in the fusiform gyrus area of the brain and in the amygdala, the areas of the brain that process emotions and recognises faces. During the times when the patients are relapsing, their brain resembles that of someone during anaesthesia or asleep. Treatment of this rare condition is generally a combination of anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs. More experimental treatments, such as electrotherapy, have been known to yield some success although there is no official cure yet.

Although the illness is rare, cases are still found with the most recent being identified in early 2015 in the UK. As a weird and wacky condition it certainly point’s one thing out, the brain is an incredibly mysterious organ even by 21st century science standards.

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