Delusions in conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have tracked social concerns over the 20th century, according to a wonderful study just published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry.
Psychologists Brooke Cannon and Lorraine Kramer reviewed the patient records of a state psychiatric hospital in the US looking at each decade of the 20th Century in turn.
They recorded the content of the delusions for every patient with psychosis and while they didn’t find that the level of delusions changed, they did find that they tended to relate to the social concerns of the time.
…more patients after 1950 believe they are being spied upon is consistent with the development of related technology and the advent of the Cold War.
Delusional content tended to reflect the culture at the time, with focus on syphilis in the early 1900s, on Germans during World War II, on Communists during the Cold War, and on technology in recent years.
An earlier study that looked at hospital records from Slovenia found a similar pattern – with madness also reflecting developing social themes.
The researchers of this study noted that “After the spread of radio in the 1920s and television in the 1950s in Slovenia, there was an obvious increase in delusions of outside influence and control as well as delusions with technical themes.”