Has Facebook made you psychotic?

Looking for something besides politics to discuss over Thanksgiving dinner?
November 22, 2012 by Amara D. Angelica

Are you lonely or vulnerable due to the loss of or separation from a loved one? Are you inexperienced with technology?

If so, you might want to read this before logging onto Facebook or Twitter after (or during) your Thanksgiving dinner.

Dr. Uri Nitzan of Tel Aviv University‘s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Shalvata Mental Health Care Center presented three in-depth case studies from his own practice linking psychotic episodes to computer-mediated communication (such as Facebook or chats), and they had those two specific things in common (and no prior major psychiatric disorder).

In each case, there was “gradual development and exacerbation of psychotic symptoms, including delusions, anxiety, confusion, and intensified use of computer communications.”

All three of Dr. Nitzan’s patients sought refuge from a lonely situation and found solace in intense virtual relationships. Although these relationships were positive at first, they eventually led to feelings of hurt, betrayal, and invasion of privacy, reports Dr. Nitzan.

“All of the patients developed psychotic symptoms related to the situation, including delusions regarding the person behind the screen and their connection through the computer,” he says.

They described a “hyperpersonal” relationship with a stranger, mistrust of the aims and identity of the other party, blurred self boundaries, misinterpretation of information, and undesirable personal exposure in cyberspace.

Two patients began to feel vulnerable as a result of sharing private information, and one even experienced tactile hallucinations, believing that the person beyond the screen was physically touching her.

The good news is that all of the patients, who willingly sought out treatment on their own, were able to make a full recovery with proper treatment and care, Dr. Nitzan says.

Factors that can contribute to a patient’s break with reality and the development of a psychotic state, he warns: the absence of non-verbal cues, and the tendency to idealize the person with whom someone is communicating, becoming intimate without ever meeting face-to-face.

(Yes, it’s only three cases, but Dr. Nitzan notes that further research is warranted to validate their hypothesis.)

Has Facebook (or other social media) driven you crazy? Confess in the computer-mediated communication below!

 

Amara D. Angelica is Editor of KurzweilAI