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7 Little Known Mental Disorders

By Chris Tusa / Crixeo.com

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in five adults in the United States experiences a mental disorder each year.

While the most common mental disorders include anxiety and occasional bouts of depression, many individuals face lesser-known challenges, including the following seven conditions.


Trichotillomania is a disorder that causes an irresistible urge to pull out one’s hair, eyelashes and eyebrows. There is some evidence that the disorder may be genetic, that hair-pulling episodes may be triggered by anxiety, and that it often occurs more frequently in people diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In rare cases, people with trichotillomania eat the hair, which often results in the development of hairballs in the intestinal tract. One such hairball is on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC. The hairball, removed successfully from the stomach of a 12-year-old girl, formed over the course of six years and is on display in the museum’s Human Body / Human Being exhibit.


Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AIWS), or Todd syndrome, is a neurologic condition that alters and distorts a person’s perception of objects. Discovered in 1955 by Dr. John Todd, AIWS was given its name primarily because the illness resembles the events Alice experienced in Lewis Carroll’s novel by the same name.

Typically sufferers perceive objects as if they were looking at the world “through the wrong end of a telescope,” according to the Medical Journal of Psychiatry. In some cases, sufferers misperceive sizes of parts of the body, particularly the head and the hands. Rather than being caused by a deficiency of the eye, the disorder results from the brain misinterpreting the information received by the eyes.

Interestingly enough, it is reported that Lewis Carroll suffered from severe migraines and Lilliputian hallucinations, a condition that causes objects and people to appear smaller than they actually are. This illness is known to affect children aged between five and 10 and is estimated to occur in about 10-20% of the population.


Alien hand syndrome is a disorder that involves the belief that one’s hand does not belong to oneself and that it has its own life. While sufferers perceive their hand as connected to their body, they are convinced that the hand is acting autonomously and possesses a will of its own.

In severe cases, sufferers will personify the limb, assigning a name to it. According to the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, anxiety often arises when patients become concerned that the rogue hand may exhibit inappropriate behavior.

The disorder often occurs in stroke patients, particularly those with damage to the corpus callosum, which connects the two cerebral hemispheres of the brain. While the condition is psychologically debilitating, fewer than 50 cases of the syndrome have ever been reported.


Jerusalem syndrome is a disorder that affects visitors to the holy city of Jerusalem. Overwhelmed by the city’s sacred religiosity, sufferers experience intense religious psychosis and religious-themed delusions.

The disorder commonly occurs among overly religious individuals who have a history of mental illness. In some cases female sufferers become convinced they are impregnated with Jesus Christ, while others proclaim themselves to be major figures from the Bible, even the Messiah himself.

In 2000, Israeli psychiatrists reported that, between 1980 and 1993, 1,200 tourists had been admitted to the city’s Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre with “severe, Jerusalem-generated mental problems.” In fact, the condition has become so common that Jerusalem police and medical professionals have specific special procedures for coping with tourists who experience the disorder. Interestingly the condition is not restricted to any religion or denomination and seems to dissipate within a few weeks after the individual has left the city.


Named after a French psychiatrist, Capgras syndrome is a rare delusional misidentification syndrome characterized by a person’s delusional belief that an acquaintance, spouse or family member has been replaced by a replica. Though the delusion typically involves human replicas, rare cases can involve pets as well as personal possessions.

In some cases the delusion will begin with one family member before gradually extending to other members of the family. Sufferers often feel anger toward the perceived imposter as well as the individuals believed responsible for replacing the loved one.

Explanations proposed by scientists consistently theorize that the disorder results when sufferers experience a disconnect between the visual face recognition area in the right temporal lobe and the area of the brain that provides the emotional response to that face. Though Capgras syndrome is not a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) diagnosis, it occurs most often in patients with schizophrenia and has also been reported in patients with epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries and dementia.


Named after the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, Diogenes syndrome is a senile squalor syndrome characterized by social withdrawal, hoarding of garbage or animals, apathy, social withdrawal, extreme self-neglect and a lack of personal hygiene.

Sufferers often live on their own in severe domestic squalor and unsanitary conditions, and they often prefer solitude, frequently becoming agitated when closely scrutinized or observed. Common primarily among the elderly and associated with progressive dementia, the disorder often occurs as a reaction to a particularly stressful event (such as death of a loved one).

Unfortunately, sufferers often refuse help from others, and the severe neglect that results from the disorder often causes physical and mental breakdown. Though the syndrome was not included separately in the latest (fifth) edition of the DSM, nearly 50% of sufferers die within five years of onset.


Often referred to as body integrity identity disorder, apotemnophilia is a neurologic disorder that causes a person to experience an overwhelming urge to amputate healthy parts of one’s body.

In most cases, sufferers become preoccupied with an idealized notion of themselves without a particular limb. In severe cases, sufferers search for surgeons to perform an amputation. When they are unsuccessful finding a surgeon who will agree, they often injure or harm the limb to force emergency amputation.

One particularly disturbing aspect surrounding this disorder is a recent phenomenon concerning doctors who theorize that amputating the limb may benefit the sufferer. In 2000 Robert Smith, a surgeon at Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary in Scotland amputated the legs of two patients at their request, asserting that the patients were happier once the legs were removed. “It was the most satisfying operation I have ever performed,” Smith said during a news conference. “I have no doubt that what I was doing was the correct thing for those patients.” end


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