Cotard’s Syndrome: Are You ‘Dead’ Tired?

Posted on March 9, 2012 in Health and Life

By Saurabh Sahni:

Cotard’s syndrome is a type of psychological disorder where a person, who is ‘dead’ tired, actually starts believing that he/she does not exist and is dead. Also known as ‘Walking Corpse Syndrome’, this disorder neurologically gives the affected person a feeling that his/her brain has been disconnected with the body.

In a total state of tiredness, ever heard yourself speaking to your own self “I wish I was dead”? If the answer is yes, then you might just be suffering from mild pangs of Cotard’s syndrome. A person afflicted with this disorder starts believing that he/she is dead or that all his/her organs are non-functional.

You know you’re suffering from Cotard’s syndrome when you don’t feel any association between yourself and the face that you see when you look in the mirror, you do not feel any emotions, you stop feeling the presence of one or more organs of your body or when you feel there has been excessive blood loss from your body. Once afflicted, some common symptoms that could be noticed in the patient include mental illness, depression and derealisation. And in the worst case, it may even lead to severe migraine.

Cotard’s syndrome is a rare neuropsychiatric delusion that leads to a virtual connection cut between the brain and emotions. On rare occasions, this disorder may also include delusions of immortality. Studies show that Cotard’s syndrome is often caused by excessive intake of drugs. It’s when these drugs react adversely that the ‘Walking Corpse Syndrome’ is caused.

To talk about real-life experiences, it was in January 1990 when one of the initial cases of this syndrome was reported. The delusion of Cotard’s syndrome grasped the patient so tightly that after his discharge from the hospital, while he was taken to South Africa (for treatment) he was made to believe that he is being taken to hell. He was convinced that he died of septicaemia. In addition to this incidence, there are a few novels, for example “Maitre Mussard’s Bequest” by German author Patrick Suskind, that talk about the Cotard delusion.

Treatment of this disorder is very much possible if the procedure is followed strictly and thoroughly. Many successful pharmacological treatments have been reported till now. These treatments involve the use of antidepressants, antipsychotics and mood stabilizing tablets. In addition, the electroconvulsive therapy, along with pharmacotherapy, is also said to work well in such cases.

In India, a few Medical colleges in Kashmir work on curing the Cotard’s syndrome and its delayed diagnosis. It is somewhat sad to note that in India many patients refuse to be treated just because of the social stigma associated with it. Since extreme tiredness and overdose of drugs are the main causes behind this syndrome, many patients inflicted with it fear that their bad habits would be highlighted in the society if they go for the treatment. Furthermore, many pregnant women affected with this syndrome also refuse to be treated simply because of the additional risks of antidepressants and medicines attached with the treatment during pregnancy. In addition, another reason why people avoid the treatment procedure is because of the financial factor associated with it. In India, a large section of the population is not covered with health insurance and since treatment of any such disorder involves a lot of consultations and investigations for which the patients have to pay from their pockets, its becomes impossible for many to receive the treatment.

Thus, it should be noted that timely treatment of Cotard’s syndrome is a must. Any delayed diagnosis would not only result in a delayed treatment- due to which the chances of cure drop significantly- but also may be too late if the patient is driven to extremes that may endanger the life that they think they no longer possess.