A person walking around and claiming to be dead might sound like something straight out of a horror film. However, this describes the reality for many people with Cotard’s syndrome. Individuals with a history of mental health issues, particularly mood disorders, personality disorders or psychotic disorders, are more likely than others to develop the condition, which is characterized by “any one of a series of delusions that range from a belief that one has lost organs, blood or body parts to insisting that one has lost one’s soul or is dead.”
The exact causes of Cotard’s syndrome, first coined by Dr. Jules Cotard in 1882, are only speculated since cases of the condition are rare and vary greatly. However, it is believed to be a response to damage in the part of the brain that controls and regulates rational thought processes. Symptoms can range from delusions to hallucinations, as people often hallucinate that their flesh is rotting, ignoring loved ones and doctors who tell them otherwise. Those with Cotard’s syndrome who believe they are deceased often refuse to eat or keep up personal hygiene. As Anil Ananthaswamy, a scientific journalist, explains, “This is a perception that they have, and you cannot rationalize, you cannot really give them evidence to the contrary and expect them to change their mind. It is a complete conviction that they have that they don’t exist… It’s very, very paradoxical.”
In 2004, a British man with Cotard’s syndrome changed the way psychologists and other professionals view the condition with a single brain scan. He had previously tried to commit suicide and woke up in a hospital stating, and fully believing, that he was dead. In an attempt to prove to this patient that was not the case, his doctors conducted a brain scan that ended up showing his brain activity was similar to that of an unconscious person in a coma.
Cotard’s syndrome has long been linked to depression. Those with a history of the depression are more likely to have the condition, but depressive symptoms also develop in response to the delusions and hallucinations that characterize Cotard’s syndrome. A 2008 case report by Dr. Anne Ruminjo and Dr. Boris Mekinulov stated that their patient felt “hopeless, low energy, decreased appetite and somnolence.”
Treatment options for Cotard’s syndrome vary, but prescription medications can help manage symptoms while therapy helps individuals cope with changing self-perception. Help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating people struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call us to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer