Skip to main content

mental health mondays :: does it take two to tango with psychosis?

taken from mother jones
well, of course it doesn't necessitate two people, but can psychosis infect another person, like cerebral herpes, where the disease of one person spreads to the other?

according to popular psychology, yes it can. the phenomena of the folie à deux, or shared psychosis, is a real thing, whereby one "dominant" person is able to project their psychosis or delusions in such a way that a second person begins to believe them. it is described as an incredibly rare occurrence, perhaps largely because it comes to light mostly in criminal cases, where one participant in a crime is identified as the 'dominant' personality, who 'infects' another [or several others] with their aberrant world view. for instance, a parent would be in a position to transmit their psychosis to a child.

many people reading this might have immediately thought of the 'manson murders' of 1969 as an example of a shared psychosis, however, legally, it wasn't. manson was tried alongside three accomplices, all three of whom were convicted and sentenced to life in prison as adults responsible for their own actions. so technically speaking, that means that the jury felt that those individuals were capable of murder on their own, regardless of manson's influence. yes, manson may have provided the catalyst, but each of the jurors was convinced that the three women on trial with manson were sufficiently homicidal in their own right that they were aware of the wrongness of their actions and proceeded of their own free will.

canada boasts [?] one of the most infamous examples of possible shared psychosis in legal history. in 1994, karla homolka was convicted of assisting her then husband paul bernardo [aka paul teale] in the kidnapping, rape, torture and murder of two ontario teens, as well as the rape and accidental murder of her own younger sister, tammy. the case became notorious largely because karla was able to broker a plea bargain before videotapes of some of their activities came to light. as a result, karla homolka was sentenced as an accomplice to murder to eleven years in prison, as opposed to the much stiffer penalties she would have faced had she been tried as an active participant in her husband's criminal activities. debate has raged ever since as to whether she was a willing partner [like the manson girls] or a victim of bernardo's who went along with him out of fear for her own life.

doctors have described homolka as a psychiatric anomaly, in that she appears to have given in completely to her former husband's criminal inclinations, but was able to remove herself just as completely from his influence once they were separated. whether or not one believes that she truly did "recover", the facts would seem to indicate that she has lived her life since her release from prison in 2005 without incident. she apparently lives under a new name with her husband and three children in the caribbean. so whatever insanity compelled her to participate in the murders of three teenaged girls, one of whom was her baby sister seems to have passed.

these cases beg the question: is the problem truly the shared psychosis, or does the "share-ee" need to have deep-seated psychiatric problems of their own in order to be lured into the self-contained belief system of a true delusional psychotic? the manson collaborators' verdict says they do. homolka's doctors say no.

i was thinking of this today as i read some of the heart-breaking and terrifying coverage from mother jones about the couple accused of killing three people in las vegas this week. i refer to it as both heart-breaking and terrifying because mother jones has pieced together statements that show jerad miller [according to his story] had his life destroyed because he was convicted of growing and selling marijuana. in a time where most progressive governments have started to back off marijuana laws, it's easy to forget that a conviction for sale of marijuana still carries significant consequences. his finacée and later wife, amanda woodruff, appears to have supported him in his troubles and agreed that the restrictions placed on the two of them following his conviction were draconian. the story is heart-breaking because the origins of their suffering seem so unfair, terrifying because it shows how slender a space their is between justified resentment and homicidal rage.

so herein lies the question: was amanda woodruff drawn into jerad miller's psychotic bubble, where law enforcement officers were the agents of evil and the two of them were brave freedom fighters? or was there already something in her brain that inclined her on the path she eventually took? or possibly, did the psychosis start with her and through continuous reinforcement, spread to jerad?

we'll likely never know, since amanda shot her husband and then herself following their murderous spree. [although, to my mind, her role in their own murders does cause me to wonder if the psychosis wasn't something that started from her, rather than her more vocal partner. that's an amateur's guess, though.] and to go along with the tragedy of the killings committed by these two, there is the adjunct blow that psychologists have been denied the chance to investigate one of the most troubling questions in their field: is psychosis contagious and if so, under what circumstances?

p.s. :: america, much though i appreciate your continuing support of "mental health mondays" in the form of an almost constant stream of mass murderers to analyze, i truly think that you need to take some steps to curb the homicidal rage that seems to lurk in your heart. while it's true that we here in canada had a disturbingly similar incident this week, history indicates that mass murders here tend to affect change; to whit: there has already been an inquiry called to review the circumstances of the shootings in moncton, because when these things happen here, we want someone to take the time to figure out why and how such an incident could have been avoided. in your country, we're lucky if a mass murder is still in the news a week after it's occurred. i'm serious, america. put down the guns and make your way to a psychiatrist's sofa. you need this.

Comments

as long as you're here, why not read more?

fun-raising

no, i am not dead, nor have i been lying incapacitated in a ditch somewhere. i've mostly been preparing for our imminent, epic move, which is actually not so terribly epic, because we found a place quite close to where we are now. in addition, i've been the beneficiary of an inordinately large amount of paying work, which does, sadly, take precedence over blogging, even though you know i'd always rather be with you.

indeed, with moving expenses and medical expenses looming on the horizon, more than can be accounted for even with the deepest cuts in the lipstick budget, dom and i recently did something that we've not done before: we asked for help. last week, we launched a fundraising campaign on go fund me. it can be difficult to admit that you need a helping hand, but what's been overwhelming for both of us is how quick to respond so many people we know have been once we asked. it's also shocking to see how quickly things added up.

most of all, though, the ex…

losers?

just a short time ago, i waxed prosaic about trump supporters who felt betrayed by their candidate pursuing in office the exact things that he said he would. short version: i have no sympathy.

today is a bit different. in the wake of america's bombing of a syrian air strip, in response to a chemical weapons attack by the syrian government, my facebook and twitter feeds were peppered with plaintive shades of "we believed you". these are the people who heard trump say that he wanted the united states to step back and focus on defending its own. indeed, trump did say such things, over and over; america cannot be the policeman of the world. even arch-liberal cynics like me had to admit that this was a refreshing argument to hear from someone outside the paul family, and, could easily have been turned into trump's greatest argument against hillary clinton. [he chose to go another way, which also worked.]

trump also said, repeatedly, that america needed to invest heavily …

long division

after the united states election last year, there were the usual calls for the country to unite behind the new president. that never happens anymore, because, since george w. bush scored a victory in 2004, having launched the country into a war in iraq for no reason, the people on the losing side of a presidential election have been pretty bloody angry about it. democrats hated bush 43. republicans really hated obama. democrats really hate trump.

it didn't help that trump didn't make the typical conciliatory gestures like including a couple of members of the opposite party in his cabinet, or encouraging his party to proceed slowly with contentious legislation. barack obama arguably wasted at least two and as many as six years of his tenure as president trying to play peacemaker before he felt sufficiently safe to just say "screw you guys" and start governing around the ridiculous congress he was forced to deal with. not-giving-a-shit obama was the best president in …