November 20, 2012
A Relationship With The Internet May Lead To Psychosis
Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The Internet was a phenomenon when it came on the scene in the early 1990´s. As the technology has grown, psychiatrists have struggled to recognize and identify a whole host of mental health issues that have arisen as a result of the increased amount of time people spend online.
Dr. Uri Nitzan of Tel Aviv University´s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Shalvata Mental Health Care Center has produced a new paper, to be published in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, that details his findings of an increase in psychopathologies, like Internet addiction and delusions related to the technology and virtual relationships, as a result in the increase in widespread use of the Internet.
Dr. Nitzan utilized three case-studies to present his research. Each of the three individuals noted in the study, from his own practice, had shown links to their individual Internet communications and the development of psychotic episodes. Dr. Nitzan claimed that each of the three individuals shared crucial characteristics that included loneliness or vulnerability stemming from the loss of or separation from a loved one, relative inexperience with technology and no prior psychosis or substance abuse issues. And with each individual, Dr. Nitzan showed a connection was found between the development and exacerbation of psychotic symptoms and the increased use of computer communications. The psychotic symptoms included delusions, anxiety and confusion.
Dr. Nitzan also pointed out that there was a light at the end of the tunnel for persons who suffer psychosis as a result of their anonymous Internet relationships. All of his patients, who had sought treatment on their own, were able to make a complete recovery.
Each of us use our time on the Internet for many varied reasons. We seek the news of the day. We play games. We research topics of interest in an attempt to broaden our knowledge. We socialize with others who live across town or across the globe. While websites like Facebook have been credited with helping to affect social change, (e.g. the Arab Spring, KONY2012), Dr. Nitzan states that some individuals can also find mental harm by using social networking sites. These sites often attract people who are, in their daily lives, lonely, or who, thriving on the anonymity of the Internet, use the platform to engage in cyber-bullying and other predatory behaviors.
With Dr. Nitzan´s case studies, each wanted to escape their real-life lonely situations by engaging in intense virtual relationships. As the relationships were in their infancy, the effects for the case studies were typically positive. However, as the relationship progressed, his patients began to have feelings of betrayal, hurt and invasion of privacy.
“All of the patients developed psychotic symptoms related to the situation, including delusions regarding the person behind the screen and their connection through the computer,” stated Dr. Nitzan in a statement.
Two of his patients experienced feelings of vulnerability once they had shared private information with their online counterpart. One patient even began to experience tactile hallucinations. She claimed she could actually feel the touch of the person who resided beyond the screen.
The patient is able to experience a break with reality and eventually develop a psychotic state of mind due to some of the features that Dr. Nitzan considers problematic. They relate to a geographical and spatial distortion as well as the absence of non-verbal cues. Additionally, psychosis is achieved as a result of the tendency to idealize the person with whom his patient was communicating, allowing them to become intimate with them despite the fact they had never met face-to-face.
Dr. Nitzan expects to continue his research with a specific focus on Facebook. He plans to study the features and applications that he believes have the potential to harm patients emotionally or permit patients to cause emotional harm to others. As mentioned above, some psychotic patients will use the Internet as a means to disturb people by abusing their ability to interact with others on an anonymous level.
The Internet euphemism for someone that engages in this behavior is “troll”. One such case was recently reported by Gawker, where the reporter sought to unmask one of the more offensive trolls on the website reddit.
As social media increases in popularity, Dr. Nitzen believes mental health professionals should not overlook its pervasive influence when speaking to patients. “When you ask somebody about their social life, it´s very sensible to ask about Facebook and social networking habits, as well as Internet use. How people conduct themselves on the Internet is quite important to psychiatrists, who shouldn´t ignore this dimension of their patients´ behavior patterns.”