Can one ever be driven insane by circumstances without an underlying mental disease?

By “insane” I mean seriously delusional and mentally unbalanced. I know movies and literature often rely on this plot device, but in real life can a person really be driven or made mentally insane by life circumstances and tragedies, without an underlying organic mental disease or defect of some sort already being present?

Yes, by your definition. You might want to look up Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder online.

Yes. Extreme conflict, deprivation, and physical/emotional pain can do so. Those are also criteria for inducing PTSD.


Children who suffer from severe abuse.

But could this happen to anyone?

You can even try it in the comfort of your own home: Go for three-hundred hours without sleep and you will be in for a wild ride!

Happened temporarily to a former boyfriend of Mr zoogirls sister. When she walked out he just lost it. He went limp on the kitchen floor in the middle of making breakfast and we had to haul him off to the hospital. He was in for about a week, as I recall.

Yes, and the talking rocks that told me to say this will be visiting you quite soon.

Yup. Look up Jerusalem Syndrome. Many of the people afflicted by it have no history of mental illness. (I knew a guy who acquired it, but he was manic depressive and so probably does not count.)

Sensory deprivation?

If I recall correctly, there are two sorts of depression (depression being classified as a mental illness). One is ‘reactive’ which results from trauma that occurs in your life, and the other ‘endogenous’ which is believed to be biochemical in origin (and may bear no relationship to how ‘good’ your life is).

kambuckta, 99.9% of depressions don’t make one delusional. The OP inquires about psychotic states. “Manic-depression”, which frequently has a psychotic element is also a separate entity from the depressions you refer to, and is better described as “Bi-polar” anyway.

Extreme emotional trauma can produce psychotic symptoms, which is why Freudianism lasted as long as it did (in presuming that all psychosis was psychological in orgin). As to whether anyone can be “driven insane” if they’re stressed enough, I don’t know.

Do “brainwashing” victims qualify as “mentally ill”?

Or what about “Genie”, the girl who spent the first 13 years of her life in solitude, strapped in a chair by her abusive parents? It was never really determined if she suffered any mental retardation from birth, but after her rescue, she was never able to fully master language.

Some people will always be more susceptible, ANYONE could suffer a psychotic episode.

There are several drugs (legal, medicinal ones, eg steroids) that can produce psychosis as a side effect in some people. Nobody suggests that these people have some underlying mental disease, just that they are affected by the medicines in that way.

Jerusalem Syndrome is also known as Stendhal’s Syndrome, and (according to a documentary I heard last year) affects so many visitors to Florence that they’ve got a special ward for disoriented tourists at the local mental hospital. I experienced something similar during my first few days in Kathmandu.

Not only can it happen to “anyone” (or at least to a great many people under the right circumstances, and that would include me), there is no mechanism for determining whether or not the person to whom it happened has, or does not have, an “underlying” mental disease.

The docs don’t test your blood for serum levels of schizophrenerase. All diagnoses are made on the basis of observed behavior and behavior to which the subject (or other folks) testify. Therefore the word “underlying” simply doesn’t make any sense in this context. If it’s “underlying” it can’t be detected; if it is detectable, the “insane” symptoms are not distinguishable from something else that constitute the “disease itself”.

The entire construct “mental illness”, in the medical-model sense of being an actual somatic condition of the brain, a physical neuro disorder manifesting itself as the symptoms that land one a psychiatric diagnosis, is drawn from induction and (::checks forum::slight_smile: IMHO, assumption, i.e., in the absence of a preexisting hypothesis that mental illness existed, all the physical evidence found to date and concatenated into one research report would not tend to cause folks to conclude that any definitive phenomenon had been described there.

So…essentially, one can go crazy from seeing too many artifacts/paintings? That sounds incredible…Is there anything that won’t make you go insane? Seirously. It seems these days that almost anything can drive you over the wall. What is it that makes one person more likely to exhibit these kinds of symptoms, while others aren’t? Or do we not know that yet?

If these conditions in some way come into your life, is there anything you can do that would increase your resistance to delusions or mental imbalance?

Basing it on my experience, I’d say it’s something similar to agoraphobia, and it’s more generally caused by sensory overload (cultural, spiritual, or artistic - depending on one’s own personality).