Folie à deux
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Folie à deux (French for "a madness shared by two"), or shared psychosis, is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another. The same syndrome shared by more than two people may be called folie à trois, folie à quatre, folie en famille or even folie à plusieurs ("madness of many"). Recent psychiatric classifications refer to the syndrome as shared psychotic disorder (DSM-IV) (297.3) and induced delusional disorder (F.24) in the ICD-10, although the research literature largely uses the original name. The disorder was first conceptualized in 19th-century French psychiatry by Charles Lasègue and Jean-Pierre Falret and so also known as Lasègue-Falret Syndrome.
This syndrome is most commonly diagnosed when the two or more individuals concerned live in proximity and may be socially or physically isolated and have little interaction with other people.
Various sub-classifications of folie à deux have been proposed to describe how the delusional belief comes to be held by more than one person.
- Folie imposée is where a dominant person (known as the 'primary', 'inducer' or 'principal') initially forms a delusional belief during a psychotic episode and imposes it on another person or persons (known as the 'secondary', 'acceptor' or 'associate') with the assumption that the secondary person might not have become deluded if left to his or her own devices. If the parties are admitted to hospital separately, then the delusions in the person with the induced beliefs usually resolve without the need of medication.
- Folie simultanée describes either the situation where two people considered to suffer independently from psychosis influence the content of each other's delusions so they become identical or strikingly similar, or one in which two people "morbidly predisposed" to delusional psychosis mutually trigger symptoms in each other.
Folie à deux and its more populous cousins are in many ways a psychiatric curiosity. The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states that a person cannot be diagnosed as being delusional if the belief in question is one "ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture" (see entry for delusion). It is not clear at what point a belief considered to be delusional escapes from the folie à... diagnostic category and becomes legitimate because of the number of people holding it. When a large number of people may come to believe obviously false and potentially distressing things based purely on hearsay, these beliefs are not considered to be clinical delusions by the psychiatric profession and are labelled instead as mass hysteria.
Reports have stated that a similar phenomenon to folie à deux had been induced by the military incapacitating agent BZ in the late 60s, and most recently again by anthropologists in the South American rainforest consuming the hallucinogen ayahuasca. (Ralph Metzner, 1999).
In the case of twin sisters Ursula and Sabina Eriksson, Ursula ran into the path of an oncoming articulated lorry, sustaining severe injuries. Sabina then immediately duplicated her twin's actions by stepping into the path of an oncoming car; she survived the impact. It was later claimed that Sabina Eriksson was a 'secondary' sufferer of folie à deux, influenced by the presence or perceived presence of her twin sister, Ursula – the 'primary'. Sabina later told an officer at the police station, "We say in Sweden that an accident rarely comes alone. Usually at least one more follows – maybe two."
However, upon her release from hospital, Sabina behaved erratically before stabbing a man to death.
Another case involved Margaret and her husband Michael, both aged 34 years, who were discovered to be suffering from folie à deux when they were both found to be sharing similar persecutory delusions. They believed that certain persons were entering their house, spreading dust and fluff and "wearing down their shoes". Both had, in addition, other symptoms supporting a diagnosis of emotional contagion, which could be made independently in either case.
One of the more famous cases today involves that of actor Randy Quaid and wife Evi Motolanez who left Los Angeles claiming they are targets of a network of Hollywood "star whackers" that murders people for money. "They follow us, they tail us, they tag our cell phone, they hack our computer," Mr Quaid said. "We believe there to be a malignant tumor of star whackers in Hollywood. It's possible for people to gain control of every facet of your life. We're not faking it." His wife stated that, "We are refugees. Hollywood refugees. I genuinely feel these people are trying to kill us. They are businessmen. It's the mafia, it's organized crime."
Film and literature
The 2011 independent film, Apart depicts two lovers affected and diagnosed with induced delusional disorder, trying to uncover a mysterious and tragic past they share. In a 2011 interview, director Aaron Rottinghaus stated the film is based on research from actual case studies.
In the X-Files episode entitled "Folie à Deux" shared psychosis is brought up by Scully as a possible explanation for the sudden conviction of Mulder, that an apparently mentally ill man had correctly identified his superior as a monster hiding in human shape.
The Simpsons episode "Lisa the Drama Queen" introduces a character called Juliet Hobbes, who retreats into a fantasy world of her own creation. After an amount of time spent in her company, Lisa and eventually Kearney experience Folie imposée which alters their perceptions of reality.
The Suite Life of Zack & Cody episode "The Suite Smell of Excess" involved the central characters returning from a parallel world. Their mother claimed that their experience was a result of them having the same dream, referring to it as Folie à deux.
Fall Out Boy released an album called Folie á Deux.