Online psychosis

The New York Times has an article about the interaction between the internet and psychosis that explored online communities that may be focused on delusional beliefs or comprised almost entirely of people who are having psychotic experiences.

If this seems slightly familiar, it’s because it’s partly based on a social network analysis study I did in 2006 with some UK colleagues (which we covered previously).

In a nutshell, the study specifically selected a set of websites describing personal experiences of mind control that were independently assessed by three psychiatrists as describing delusional experiences. Using social network analysis, the study demonstrated that these people were part of a social network just like other online and offline communities.

This is interesting because the diagnostic criteria for a delusion excludes any belief that is “not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture”, whereas these individuals have formed an online community based around their delusional belief, creating a paradox.

Perhaps the most sensible comment in the article in the closing paragraph which quotes psychiatrist Ken Duckworth:

Psychiatrists and researchers say it is too soon to say whether communication on the Internet among people who may be psychotic will negatively effect their illnesses.” This is a very complex little corner,” said Dr. Ken Duckworth, the medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an advocacy group. “Some people may find it’s healing, but these are really hard questions. The Internet isn’t a cause of mental illness, it’s a complicating new variable.”

Actually, I’m misquoted in a very minor way at the end, where I’m described as saying that research on ‘alien abductees’ has suggested they have severe memory problems.

In fact, we know from the work of psychologist Susan Clancy that the memory problems are definitely there but are actually quite subtle.

Link to NYT article.
Link to text of social network analysis study.
Link to PubMed entry for same.

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