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article imageStudy: Facebook can induce psychosis and delusional states

By JohnThomas Didymus     May 6, 2013 in Health
A new study by researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel, based on case studies of individuals, says Facebook and other social media can induce psychotic symptoms and delusional states in vulnerable lonely individuals.
The researchers found that unique features of computer mediated communications (CMC) may contribute to the formation of psychotic experiences.
In the paper published in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, titled, "Internet related psychosis-- a sign of the times," the researchers, Dr. Uri Nitzan of the Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Shalvata Mental Health Care Center, and colleagues, noted that psychopathological implications of the Internet are emerging as the use of social networking sites become more widespread. The study drew the attention of mental health workers to the possible link between computer mediated communication (CMC), such as Facebook or chats, and psychosis.
The study took an in-depth look at three patients with no prior major psychiatric disorder but who presented for psychiatric treatment because of psychotic symptoms which appeared while they using social networking sites. The study found a link between "specific features" of social networking sites and the gradual emergence of the psychotic symptoms.
The salient features of the circumstances surrounding the emergence of the symptoms, according to the researchers, were a "'hyperpersonal' relationship with a stranger, mistrust of the aims and identity of the other party, blurred self boundaries, misinterpretation of information, and undesirable personal exposure in cyberspace."
The study also noted that the patients were relatively inexperienced in the use of computers, the Internet and related technology. Their vulnerability was accentuated by the difficulties they encountered in interpreting the various elements of social media interaction including the technical aspects.
All three patients became immersed in intense virtual relationships in order to escape loneliness, a circumstance that might have made them more vulnerable. In spite of the fact that they had a common underlying problem of loneliness none of them had a history of drug abuse or previous psychosis
The Daily Mail reports Dr Nitzan said: "The patients shared some crucial characteristics, including loneliness or vulnerability due to the loss of or separation from a loved one, relative inexperience with technology, and no prior history of psychosis or substance abuse. In each case, a connection was found between the gradual development and exacerbation of psychotic symptoms, including delusions, anxiety, confusion, and intensified use of computer communications."
Although the online relationships initially had a positive effect on the patients, it eventually led to feelings of hurt, betrayal and invasion of privacy.
One of the patients even developed a bizarre delusion in which she imagined that an online contact was trying to touch her physically
Dr Nitzan continued: "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. Two patients began to feel vulnerable as a result of sharing private information, and one even experienced tactile hallucinations, believing that the person beyond the screen was physically touching her. Some of the problematic features of the Internet relate to issues of geographical and spatial distortion, the absence of non-verbal cues, and the tendency to idealize the person with whom someone is communicating, becoming intimate without ever meeting face-to-face."
The authors stressed that mental health professionals should never ignore the potential influence of the Internet on patients presenting with mental illness: "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... Our study shows that while technologies such as Facebook have numerous advantages, some patients are harmed by these social networking sites, which can attract those who are lonely or vulnerable in their day-to-day lives or act as a platform for cyber-bullying and other predatory behavior. All of these factors can contribute to a patient's break with reality, and the development of a psychotic state."
The authors said they plan to do more in-depth research on the mental health effects of social networking sites, with specific reference to the features and applications that have the potentials of impacting on patients' emotional and mental health. They noted that "as Internet access becomes increasingly widespread, so do related psychopathologies."
IB Times notes this is not the first time that researchers have reported the negative mental health effects of social networking which emphasizes the need to draw a line between healthy habits and harmful addiction.
Previous studies have concluded that social networking addicts suffer withdrawal symptoms when they are denied access.
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