Shared Psychotic Disorder

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Old 02-Jul-2010
Shared Psychotic Disorder

A ‘Shared Psychotic Disorder’ is an uncommon condition where a mentally healthy person ‘shares’ the delusions and false beliefs of a delusional individual. A shared psychotic disorder is also known as folie a deux or the ‘folly of two’. A person suffering from a shared psychotic disorder would have developed the disorder post the establishment of a relationship with a person suffering from a psychotic disorder. The person with the psychotic disorder will be known as the ‘primary case’, while the person with the shared psychotic disorder will be known as the ‘secondary case’. For example, if the husband in a marriage believes that aliens are out to get him, his wife too can come under the influence of this irrational belief. Here, the husband is the primary case and the wife is the secondary case. It also means that the wife has developed a shared psychotic disorder because of her husband’s psychotic disorder. The delusions usually vanish when the affected people are separated. However, there are very specific ways for treating this disorder. Read on to know more on causes, symptoms and treatment of shared psychotic disorder.

Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment Of Shared Psychotic Disorder

  • Researchers and psychologists are not sure of the exact causes of a shared psychotic disorder, but believe that certain factors that are associated with family and friends can cause the same.
  • Mostly, a shared psychotic disorder will be ‘passed on’ to an individual from a family member who is suffering from a psychotic disorder. The psychotic disorder can be a result of stress, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and drastic life changes. Sometimes a family may even have a history of psychotic disorders. This can result in the occurrence or passing on of psychotic and shared psychotic disorders from one generation to the other.
  • A shared psychotic disorder can also be caused by an alteration in the levels of Dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps the brain’s nerve cells in sending messages to each other. A change in the levels of Dopamine will have a harmful influence on the way a person reacts to sounds, sights and smells. The alteration can even lead to hallucinations and depletions.

The symptoms of a shared psychotic disorder will be very similar to that of a psychotic disorder, but may differ in the intensity of the same.
  • Perplexed thinking
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Weird and potentially dangerous behaviour
  • Incoherent and nonsensical speech
  • Abnormal and slow movements
  • Problems in inter-personal relationships
  • A decrease or loss of interest in personal hygiene and looking presentable
  • Mood swings and depression
  • Isolation and an incapability to express oneself
  • A decrease or loss of interest in mental and physical activities

  • The treatment of a shared psychotic disorder will aim to nullify the effects of the same on the secondary case. It will also look to correct the delusions of the primary case, because that is where the root of the problem lies.
  • The most common way of treating a shared psychotic disorder includes the separation of the two cases. The secondary person will be separated from the primary person and the disorders will be addressed accordingly. Treatment will be dished out to the secondary person depending on the degree of the first person’s influence.
  • When separation is not possible, treatment may vary from psychotherapy to medication. Psychotherapy is a type of counselling that will target the delusions of the person suffering from a shared psychotic disorder. Here, the objective is to correct the untrue beliefs or convictions of the affected individual. A series of sessions and treatments will be dished out to the patient to help him/her see the reality of the situation.
  • Psychotherapy can also stretch out to correct faults in the relationship shared between the primary and the secondary case. This method of treatment will even aim to cancel out the emotional effects of short-term separation from the primary case.
  • Family therapy is another method of setting right a shared psychotic disorder. This treatment will pay a lot of attention to eliminating delusions and isolation by focussing on relationship building activities. The two cases will be put in family or social situations to encourage interactions and build relationships with other members of the family. This will help improve communication and in time will also help correct the psychotic and shared psychotic disorders of the concerned individuals.
  • The patient suffering from a shared psychotic disorder may also have to take anti-psychotic medicines. The medicines will mostly be given if treatment via separation from the primary case is not possible. Apart from basic medicines, sedative agents or tranquilizers such as diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan) will be given to the patient. These sedatives act against intense or aggressive symptoms of the disorder. The symptoms can range from violent protestations, anxiety, insomnia and extreme restlessness.

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