Could We Soon Diagnose Autism And Schizophrenia By People’s Hand Movements?

autismJust the subtlest of differences in the movement of our hands could reveal our inherent personality traits, research has revealed.

By analysing and classifying these movements, health professionals could one day treat mental health conditions such as autism and schizophrenia.

Researchers have shown we all have an individual motor signature (IMS) but people who display similar behavioural characteristics tend to move in a similar way.

A team of experts from the universities of Exeter, Bristol, Montpellier and Naples Federico II, studied how people mirrored each other and themselves as an avatar on a screen.

They suggest everyone has an IMS, or blueprint of the subtle differences in the way we move compared to someone else.

Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova, who specialises in mathematics in healthcare at the University of Exeter, told MailOnline: ‘What we found is that each individual has their own preferred style of movement, or velocity profile.’

She said this was the case when participants were tested weeks and even months apart, so in the future individuals may be able to be identified simply by how they move.

The differences may be in the speed or weight of movement, but the study, published in the Royal Society journal Interface, does not go as far as classifying specific movements associated with certain personality traits

‘Although human movement has been well studied, what is far less well understood is the differences each of us displays when we move – whether it is faster, or lighter, or smoother for example,’ said Dr Tsaneva-Atanasova said.

However, she said ‘velocity is one of the main features and is sufficient to get a signature’.

Using a plain mirror game, in which two ‘players’ are asked to imitate each other’s movements, the team showed that while people’s movements were unique, those using similar movements tended to display ‘more organised collective behaviour’ to complete the mirroring task better.

They believe these findings indicate that people with comparable movement blueprints find it easier to coordinate with each other during interpersonal interactions.

‘This study shows that people who move in a certain way, will also react in similar ways when they are performing joint tasks,’ Dr Tsaneva-Atanasova said.

‘Essentially, our movements give an insight into our inherent personality traits.

‘What we demonstrate is that people typically want to react and interact with people who are similar to themselves.

‘But what our study also shows is that movement gives an indication of a person’s behavioural characteristics.’

The researchers think a person’s IMS, together with how they interact with others, could give experts an insight into their mental health and could pave the way for personalised prediction, diagnosis or treatments in the future.

So those who move in a distinctly different way, may have a condition not shared with the majority of a population.

People with autism or schizophrenia, for example, could potentially be diagnosed by performing a simple tactile task, rather than undergoing more invasive tests such as lying in CT scanners, Dr Tsaneva-Atanasova, said.

The research could lead to new therapeutic therapies being developed, such as a computer program where people shy of interaction with others could learn to mimic movements made by an avatar to improve their communication.

‘It could help people with social phobias become more interactive,’ Dr Tsaneva-Atanasova said.

The research is part of a wider EU-funded project called Alter Ego, which is still ongoing.

In the future, the team hopes to study the movements of healthy people and those with schizophrenia.

Taken from DailyMail.Co.Uk

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind

Struck by a brain tumour, she truly grasped how terrifying life can be for the mentally ill


brain-circulation-110818-02As the director of the human brain bank at the United States National Institute of Mental Health, I am surrounded by brains, some floating in jars of formalin and others icebound in freezers. As part of my work, I cut these brains into tiny pieces and study their molecular and genetic structure.

My speciality is schizophrenia, a devastating disease that often makes it hard for the patient to discern what is real and what is not.

I examine the brains of people with schizophrenia whose suffering was so acute that they committed suicide.

I always did my work with great passion, but I don’t think I really understood what was at stake until my own brain stopped working.

Early last year, I was sitting at my desk when something freakish happened. I extended my arm to turn on the computer and, to my astonishment, my right hand “disappeared” when I moved it to the right lower quadrant of the keyboard. I tried again, and the same thing happened: The hand disappeared completely as if it had been cut off at the wrist. Stricken with fear, I kept trying to find my right hand, but it was gone.

I had battled breast cancer in 2009 and melanoma in 2012, but I had never considered the possibility of a brain tumour. I knew immediately that this was the most logical explanation for my symptoms, and yet I quickly dismissed the thought.

Instead, I headed to a meeting with my colleagues. We were supposed to review new data on the molecular composition of schizophrenia patients’ frontal cortex, a region that shapes who we are – our thoughts, emotions, memories.

But I couldn’t focus because the other scientists’ faces kept vanishing. Thoughts about a brain tumour crept quietly into my consciousness again, then screamed for attention.

An MRI scan later in the day showed that I indeed had a small brain tumour – it was bleeding and blocking my right visual field. I was told it was metastatic melanoma and was given what was, in effect, a death sentence. I was a scientist, a triathlete, a wife, a mother and a grandmother. Then one day my hand vanished, and it was over.

Almost right away, I had brain surgery, which removed the tumour and the blood. I quickly regained my vision. Unfortunately, new lesions were popping up throughout my brain, small but persistent. I started radiation treatments. In the spring, I entered an immunotherapy clinical trial. Shortly before the end of this treatment, my brain really went awry.

It was difficult, at first, to pinpoint the changes in my behaviour because they came on slowly. I didn’t suddenly become someone else. Rather, some of my normal traits and behaviours became exaggerated and distorted, as if I were turning into a caricature of myself.

I had always been very active but, now, I was rushing about frantically. I had no time for anything – not even for the things I really enjoyed, like talking to my children and my sister on the telephone. I cut them off mid-sentence, running off somewhere to do something of great importance, though what exactly, I couldn’t say. I became rude and snapped at anyone who threatened to distract me. I would read a paragraph and forget it instantly. I got lost driving home from work along a route I had taken for decades. I went running in the woods outside my house, barely dressed.

Yet, I wasn’t worried. Like many patients with mental illness, whose brains I had studied for a lifetime, I was losing my grasp on reality.

I came up with elaborate justifications for my behaviour.

I had reasons for everything I did and, even if I couldn’t articulate these reasons, my certainty that they existed reinforced my belief that I was perfectly sane.

I kept sending my doctor detailed e-mail about how great I was feeling. I was excited that I had completed immunotherapy. I felt certain that there was nothing wrong with my brain. This wasn’t just wishful thinking or extreme denial; my world view made perfect sense to me. I still saw myself as a scientist – a master of the rational – and was, in fact, still working hard on other people’s brains, not able to see that my own was crashing.

One day, when I was acting particularly strangely, my family took me to the emergency room. A brain scan showed many new tumours, inflammation and severe swelling. My frontal cortex was especially affected. I had studied this area of the brain for 30 years; I knew what that kind of swelling meant, and yet I showed no interest in the scans. Instead, I believed that my doctor and my family were scheming behind my back and making a mistake by giving in to unreasonable panic. I was frustrated that no one saw the world as clearly as I did.

Despite my conviction that there was nothing really wrong with me, I took the drugs prescribed. Steroids reduced the swelling and inflammation. Then the visible tumours were destroyed by radiation. I was also placed on a new drug regimen intended to kill the melanoma cells in my body.

Gradually, my brain began to work again. Memories started coming back, as if I had awakened from a deep sleep. I could tell the days apart. I could find my way home from work. I began apologising left and right for my strange actions and insensitive behaviour. But the more I remembered, the more frightened I became that I might lose my mind again.

The underlying causes of mental illness are rarely as clear as metastatic brain cancer. And yet I felt I understood for the first time what many of the patients I study go through – the fear and confusion of living in a world that doesn’t make sense; a world in which the past is forgotten and the future is utterly unpredictable. I had tried to fill the gaps with guesses. But when my guesses were wrong, conspiracy theories crawled in.

As terrifying as it was for me, it was even more terrifying for my family. For them, it was not just the prospect of my death that was shockingly painful, but the possibility that my persona, who I was – my brain – might change so profoundly that I would, in effect, vanish before I was truly gone. Or as my daughter put it: “Mum, I thought I had already lost you.”

My latest MRI scan shows that almost all the tumours in my brain have disappeared or shrunk considerably. Against all odds, the combination of treatments has been effective. I still scrutinise my emotions and behaviours, examining my mind over and over for any loose ends. It remains an obsession.

But I am learning to delight in the fact that my brain works again. I can see the sunny street outside and make total sense of it. I can ever so casually extend my arm and call my children, and they will recognise my voice and sigh with relief.

I can flick on my computer and get back to work.


  • Barbara K. Lipska, a neuroscientist, is the director of the Human Brain Collection Core at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Taken from StraitsTimes.Com

I Have Schizophrenia And A Great Job — But For How Long?

schizophrenic-joemI am a woman with paranoid schizophrenia working in corporate America. Of the 25,000 people my company employs, I’ve never met anyone else with schizophrenia. Come to think of it, I’ve never met anyone else at my work with any kind of mental illness, and seeing as approximately 26% of Americans live with mental illness, I can only guess that corporate culture in this country is still stifling the fact that mental illness even exists, let alone how it affects people on a deep level in its own offices.

I personally know two people with schizophrenia and two with schizoaffective disorder (a schizo-type mood disorder — something like a cross between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia). One of the people with schizophrenia I know is my uncle. He hasn’t worked a job since his “nervous breakdown” (that was what my family called it at the time, back when schizophrenia or any other kind of serious mental illness was taboo) somewhere around 1995. I remember standing at the doorway of his apartment with my aunt, his then-wife, watching him talk to someone I couldn’t see. I figured he was just talking to himself — I do that all the time — and didn’t think much of it. The look on my aunt’s face, however, told a very different story.

It was unfortunate for him that his wife eventually left him, because living with schizophrenia is hard enough without having to deal with the regret of failure that indubitably comes along with divorce. When I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, my father told me that my uncle had been hospitalized more than once during that time. My father told me to never, ever, stop taking my medication. I didn’t listen, of course — why would I? — and that decision got me hospitalized, too.

Just because I don’t know anyone with schizophrenia who works in corporate America doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t any. But if there were many, I would think I would have met at least one at some point through my mental health advocacy.

I haven’t.

I am also unique, because my all coworkers know I have schizophrenia. Considering I don’t know any of the other people affected by a mental illness at my job, it is likely there are a lot of mental health secrets being kept from management. Such is not the case with me, though.

My boss believes that making connections in an effort to build a circle of trust is what makes a great team. When he found out I was an author, he organized an impromptu conference-room book signing in an effort to build those connections. I was given the opportunity to talk about what made me want to write books. When I was asked about my interest in schizophrenia as it relates to one of my novels, Paper Souls, I told them the whole truth. I wasn’t going to lie about it.

“It’s me,” I said. “I have schizophrenia.”

The reaction is always the same. The room goes silent and people look at you as if you just said you killed somebody. But then they remember they are not supposed to stigmatize people with mental illness and their expressions soften. They nod and someone gives you a hug. “You are an amazing person,” somebody says. “I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through that.”

You would think that in the weeks, months, and years that follow an admission like that, people would treat you differently. They would give you special treatment and go out of their way to be kind to you, because you have a disability. Or maybe, they will fear you. But that’s not what happened, at least not with me. People go on with their lives. They don’t have schizophrenia, so what do they care — as long as you get your work done. People like me prefer it that way, I think. We’ve never wanted any kind of special treatment. We just want to be treated like everyone else. We just want to be treated like we didn’t actually kill somebody, because we didn’t.

That’s not to say life isn’t difficult for those of us lucky enough to escape the stigma in the corporate world (at least for a little while). I know that stigma is still very alive in many professional environments, because I have heard the stories from other advocates. I have been lucky enough not to face that at work.

Sitting at a desk surrounded by white walls while being expected to be normal is no easy task. It is quiet. Scary, sometimes. It is the perfect setting for a horror movie, really. Sitting in your gray cubicle with no sound except eager fingers banging away on keyboard after keyboard until a bloody monster with 300 teeth pops out at you and tells you to kill yourself — because if you don’t, he will kill you. It’s only one person with schizophrenia’s interpretation of the dopamine demon, but every person with schizophrenia gets it. A pressurized environment, packed tight with corporate stress, is a recipe for disaster in a person with schizophrenia’s mind. I live it every day.

There are things I’ve tried to do to make life easier on myself. I’ve attempted to take the dose of meds I’m supposed to take to live a somewhat normal life, but the medication they give people with schizophrenia is not designed to allow a person to wake up at 6 a.m. It is not designed to make a person work a specific shift. We need breaks. We need naps. The effects of the medication are similar to those of marijuana. It makes you tired and slower on the draw than the average person. Our brains aren’t slow; our reflexes are. Disorganized speech is a very real thing for those people with schizophrenia, medicated or not. We are paranoid about whether or not people notice. They know, we think. They know I hear voices.

Have you ever worked in corporate America? Do you think it would be acceptable if you sat in a conference room and watched a person stutter through a two-hour presentation in front of executive managers while looking behind their shoulder in fear? Do you think your boss would ever give that person a high-profile project again? Do you think you would ever get the opportunity to succeed again? Absolutely not.

This is my life. Am I stupid? Am I high? Am I not as good as the other people on my team? No. I have schizophrenia. I drink a lot of coffee to stay awake. My strengths are different than theirs, just as their weaknesses are different than mine. (I just had to ask my boyfriend what the opposite of strength is, because, anti-psychotic medication.)

I’ve tried to work with my doctor on what can be done, such as starting my shift two hours later or working a split shift, but that is not how corporate America works. It is a closed-minded environment that doesn’t allow for special circumstances. So, instead of collecting a disability check that no one would be able to live off of, I cut meds, like every other respectable person with schizophrenia, with a full-time job. I take about a third of what I’m supposed to take, which comes with the risk of a serious relapse I won’t be able to bounce back from. But we do what we have to. We all do, schizophrenia or not.

I don’t know what to do about my struggles as a person with schizophrenia working in corporate America, other than continue to struggle. I have a great job with great benefits that I need in order to survive financially in Los Angeles. Due to the weaknesses that come along with the illness and the debilitating medication, I don’t exceed the expectation like others — I barely meet it some days — but I do get by. My career will likely not go much further — I might even be fired — due to my issues connecting with people, focusing for long periods of time, and getting up early in the morning, but what do you do? Do I risk more stress with the threat of losing everything by plunging into the writing life, or do I just…try harder? It’s the age old question facing every 29-year-old, I think. What to do with my life?

Taken from Refinery29.Com


Why Risk Of Schizophrenia Is Three Times Higher In Refugees

refugees schizophrenia 1Much commentary in politics and the media refers to refugees as a problem or threat, without much acknowledgement of their suffering. A large study from Sweden published in the BMJ illustrates part of that human cost. It reported that refugees in Sweden were about twice as likely to experience schizophrenia and other psychoses compared to non-refugee migrants and three times as likely as native born Swedes.

As the article points out, Sweden grants more asylum applications per capita than any other high income country. It also has a system of linked registers, which provide anonymised data on individuals from multiple sources and make it possible to do detailed research on the health problems associated with immigration and refugee status. This study focused on schizophrenia.

It is well established that being an immigrant is a risk factor for schizophrenia. Schizophrenia affects around 1% of people in their lifetime and often results in lifelong social problems and a reduced life expectancy. A widely accepted model of schizophrenia is that each individual has a genetically determined degree of predisposition (the diathesis-stress model). This can result in illness when they are subjected to a particular level of stress.

The experience of migration and of living as part of a minority are thought to cause stress which results in more frequent cases of schizophrenia in these populations. The authors of this study wanted to know whether refugees, who have been given asylum on the basis of a “well founded fear of persecution” – and so by definition have experienced a lot of stress – show even higher frequency of schizophrenia than other migrants.

The study included a total of 1.3m people, of which 24,123 were refugees, 132,663 non-refugee migrants and the rest born in Sweden to two Swedish-born parents. The result was quite clear: the refugees had roughly double the incidence of schizophrenia in non-refugee migrants and triple the incidence found in the Swedish-born. This is very much what you would expect from the diathesis-stress model, and gives an indication of the lasting burden that the experience of having to flee creates for individuals.

The ratios sound large, but you have to keep in mind that they come from differences between fairly small numbers. There were, for example, 93 cases among the 24,000 refugees – so it doesn’t mean that there will be huge numbers of schizophrenics among refugees.

The period studied ended in 2011, and so predates the current wave of refugees from Syria, although the largest proportion did come from the Middle East, and it’s reasonable to expect a similar result among the latest refugees.

There are some differences when refugees of different origins are compared: the difference between refugees and non-refugee migrants is most pronounced in those of Eastern European and Russian origin, and absent in those of Sub-Saharan African origin where the incidence in both groups is particularly high. This may be due to conditions in the countries of origin, or to possibly different social reception in Sweden.

The study compares refugees with non-refugee migrants from similar origins, so the “refugee effect” is clearly not due to genetic differences between populations. It is possible that different populations also have differing distributions of genetic predisposition.

Although our understanding of the genetics of schizophrenia is advancing rapidly, we don’t have the ability to determine whether this is the case at the moment. We cannot directly compare incidence of mental illness across countries with widely different medical systems and customs. Of course, if we had a full understanding of genetic predisposition we could predict schizophrenia risk accurately from genetic data, but we are not that far advanced, especially for comparing different populations. But we can conclude that the Swedish study supports the idea that stress increases the risk of schizophrenia.

Taken from TheConversation.Com

Scientists Find Gene Fault That Raises Schizophrenia Risk 35-Fold

schizophrenia brainScientists say they have conclusive evidence that changes to a gene called SETD1A can dramatically raise the risk of developing schizophrenia – a finding that should help the search for new treatments.

The team, led by researchers at Britain’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said damaging changes to the gene happen very rarely but can increase the risk of schizophrenia 35-fold.

Changes in SETD1A also raise the risk of a range of neurodevelopmental disorders, the researchers said.

In a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the team found that mutations that remove the function of SETD1A are almost never found in the general population, but affect 1 in 1,000 people with schizophrenia.

While this gene fault explains only a very small fraction of all schizophrenia patients, it provides an important clue to the wider biology of the disorder, they said.

Schizophrenia is a severe and common psychiatric illness that affects around one in 100 people worldwide. Symptoms include disruptions in thinking, language and perception, and patients can also suffer psychotic experiences such as hearing voices or having delusions.

While the exact causes of schizophrenia are unknown, research to date suggests a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors can make people more likely to develop it.

Jeff Barrett, who led the study for the Sanger Institute, said its results were surprising and exciting.

“Psychiatric disorders are complex diseases involving many genes, and it is extremely difficult to find conclusive proof of the importance of a single gene,” he said.


Mike Owen, a Cardiff University expert in neuropsychiatric genetics and genomics, said the so-far limited understanding of schizophrenia’s causes has hampered efforts to develop new treatments.

“Current drugs are only effective in alleviating some of the symptoms, can lead to troubling side effects and are ineffective in a sizeable minority of cases,” he said.

This new finding about defects in the SETD1A gene – although only explaining a small fraction of cases – may guide researchers toward new pathways that could be targets for treatments or medicines in a larger number of cases, Owen said.

The study analyzed the genome sequences of more than 16,000 people from Britain, Finland and Sweden, including those from 5,341 people with schizophrenia.

Damage to the SETD1A gene was found in 10 of the schizophrenia patients, and surprisingly also in six other people with other developmental and neuropsychiatric disorders such as intellectual disability, the scientists said.

This shows the same gene is involved in both schizophrenia and developmental disorders and suggests they may share common biological pathways.

Taken from Reuters.Com

Schizophrenics More Likely To Attempt Suicide, Says Study

schizophrenics-more-likely-to-attempt-suicide-says-studyPeople with schizophrenia are six times more likely to attempt suicide than those without the mental disorder characterised by abnormal social behaviour and failure to recognise what is real, a new study has claimed.

Researchers from the University of Toronto (U of T) also found that those with schizophrenia who had been physically abused during childhood were five times more likely to have attempted suicide.

The lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts among individuals with schizophrenia was 39.2 per cent compared to 2.8 per cent of those without the disorder, researchers said.

They examined a representative sample of 21,744 community-dwelling Canadians, of whom 101 reported they had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“When we focused only on the 101 individuals with schizophrenia, we found that women and those with a history of drug or alcohol abuse and/or major depressive disorder were much more likely to have attempted suicide,” said Bailey Hollister from U of T.

Individuals with schizophrenia who reported that they had been physically abused during their childhood were five times more likely to have attempted suicide and early adversities explained 24 per cent of the variability in suicide attempts, researchers said.

“Even after taking into account most of the known risk factors for suicide attempts, those with schizophrenia had six times the odds of having attempted suicide in comparison to those without schizophrenia,” said Esme Fuller-Thomson from U of T.

“Clearly those with schizophrenia are an extremely vulnerable population. Knowledge of the added risk of suicide attempts associated with childhood abuse and substance abuse could help clinicians improve targeting and outreach to this population,” Fuller-Thompson said.

Taken from

Turkish Magazine By Schizophrenia Patients To Be Published Soon

magazine-free-clipart-1A special issue of a popular Turkish magazine, editorial content of which has been created jointly with schizophrenic patients of an Istanbul psychiatric hospital, will be delivered at the end of March.

Prepared in cooperation with the travel magazine Atlas, “Gündüz Atlası” aims to show that schizophrenia patients can and do lead normal lives.

The editorial content of the special issue has been prepared by schizophrenic patients who are undergoing rehabilitation at Gündüz Hospital, an institution at a psychiatric hospital located in Istanbul’s Bakırköy district.

The patients of Turgut Altuntaş, Müjgan Bulut, Filiz Demiroğlu, Baran Doğu, Özlem Ertan, Dilara Karakaş, Adem Ramazan Karataş, Turgut Köklü, Cengiz Sulu, Volkan Uruk, Serdar Uzcan, Gözde Ünlü and Ayşe Berna Yunusoğlu have worked for three months, receiving photograph and editorial training from Atlas magazine’s editorial team.

“Gündüz Atlası” is named after Gündüz Hospital and consists of 18 pages. Some of the topics covered by the magazine include “Nature and Man,” “Nature and Music” and “Nature and Poetry” as well as travel writings on Sapanca and Taraklı, two districts in the northwestern province of Sakarya known for their natural beauty.

“Our aim is to contribute to the prevention of the marginalization of people with psychiatric disorders. There is a prejudice against individuals with psychiatric disorders, especially the ones with schizophrenia, as they are called ‘crazy.’ However, this is a totally unfair stigmatization. Therefore, we wanted to create a social responsibility project to enlighten this stigmatization,” said Erhan Kurt, Bakırköy psychiatric hospital chief physician, speaking during a press conference on March 2.

Gözde Ünlü, a schizophrenic patient who contributed to the creation of Gündüz Atlası, shared her experiences during her treatment and what this project meant for her.

“I was born in Istanbul in 1975. I dropped out of Boğaziçi University’s biology department when I was freshman. In 2009, I came to the Bakırköy Psychiatric Hospital because I feared I was being chased. I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and came to Gündüz Hospital in 2010 upon my doctor’s advice. I had not been working since 2008, but between 2011 and 2013, I had worked at a café in the hospital, within a sheltered workspace model. About three months ago, I received an invitation to join the Atlas magazine’s project. I found out that with this training that I could be able to improve my skills and writing. I understood that people can be successful by working. This amateur writing experience has been a successful and entertaining work for me and the fact that my piece has been published in the Atlas magazine is flattering and it excites me a lot that it will be published all across Turkey. Therefore I am very happy. This work is a success against stigmatization,” said Ünlü.

“Atlas magazine always worked the documentation of natural and cultural heritage and for raising awareness for their protection. We had the same purpose with ‘Gündüz Atlası.’ As part of the project, I was a guest at Gündüz Hospital. We, as the Gündüz Atlası team, spent many hours together, gathered around work and searching for ways to publish a good magazine. There, I saw once again that when the opportunity is provided, everybody can express themselves, produce work and contribute to the world. Treasures make us human and the willingness to go after them is common trait of all of us,” Atlas magazine Co-Editor Mustafa Türker Erşen said.

Taken from HurriyetDailyNews.Com


When People With Schizophrenia Hear Voices, They’re Really Hearing Their Own Subvocal Speech

Unlike most people, they just can’t tell it’s themselves.

electromyography .jpg.CROP.article250-mediumMy first encounter with a schizophrenic patient was as a medical student in my third week of a neurology rotation. The attending neurologist and I were called to consult on a psychiatric inpatient who had just had a seizure. “Have you taken psychiatry yet?” the doctor asked. I hadn’t. The neurologist insisted that it would be a valuable educational experience for me to see the patient on my own, listen to his story and medical history, and report back. So I headed alone to the psych ward, through the two sets of remote-activated metal doors, and into Room 621, where I met Brandon, a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered from frequent auditory hallucinations.

At 28 years old, Brandon was a graduate of Cornell University with a degree in history but had been unemployed for years afterward. He had a fresh-looking, boyish face and floppy brown hair, a look that conflicted with the disturbing history I had read in his chart. When first hospitalized three weeks earlier, Brandon repeatedly chased down staff members and yanked their earlobes. He said he was trying to “shake out their spy recorders.” In the short time he had been on the ward, he threatened to attack his nurse twice, once with a pen and once with a pair of tweezers, claiming that she was an FBI agent sent to do the work of Satan. Before his seizure that morning, he had been ranting that the nursing staff was “making him crazy” and that they were “putting the angry thoughts in his head” to make him look bad. After getting the information I needed about his seizure, I asked Brandon about his hallucinations.

“Usually I hear him when I’m alone,” he said.

“Who do you hear?” I asked.

“Gerald. He’s such an asshole. He works for the FBI. He spies on me all the time. He knows everything. It happened when I was a kid—you know, when he put the spy chip in my brain—but the doctors here say that they don’t see it on their brain scans.”

“What’s he saying now?”

Brandon leaned forward and locked eyes with me. “He’s talking about you. The devil! He sees the devil in your eyes!”

This seemed like a good time to end the interview, but still my mind was flooded with questions. Why does Brandon hear a voice in his head? Where does it come from? Why does it say what it says?

* * *

Imagine you are standing in the lobby of an unfamiliar building, various unmarked corridors and elevator banks swimming all around you, and you scratch your head as you attempt to understand the directions in your hand that are supposed to lead you to the main conference room: “Proceed down the second hallway to the left, go through the double doors, and take Elevator C to the fifth floor, Suite 511.” As you ponder which hallway is “second to the left,” and even begin to question the integrity of your navigational skills, you feel a tap on your shoulder.

“Elevator C is down that way.” A friendly passer-by points you in the right direction. Apparently you were thinking so intently about the directions that you began mumbling them out loud. You intended for this mental dialogue to remain only in your mind, and yet you ended up broadcasting your thoughts to a complete stranger.

This phenomenon is called subvocal speech, and it happens all the time. Our brains process all language, even the private language in our minds, using its distinct linguistic regions and vast neural pathways that transmit instructions to the muscles of speech. Our thoughts turn into subvocal speech when that mechanism goes as far as to rouse those muscles to contract, even though that stimulation is usually too weak to generate a voice that anyone could actually hear.

The psychiatrist Louis Gould wanted to know whether auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia have anything to do with the phenomenon of subvocal speech. Are the experiences that schizophrenics describe as having “voices in their heads” merely the unintentional mutterings of the speech muscles? If so, why would schizophrenics happen to notice their subvocal speech while healthy people do not? Gould designed an experiment using a technique called electromyography, or EMG, which measures muscle activation through time. He gathered a group of schizophrenic and healthy patients and, one by one, recorded their vocal muscle activity. When Gould compared the EMG recordings of schizophrenic patients as they experienced auditory hallucinations to those of nonhallucinating patients, he found that, when the patients were hearing voices, their EMG recordings showed greater vocal muscle activation. This result meant that when the schizophrenics were hearing voices in their heads, their vocal muscles were contracting—they were engaging in subvocal speech.

Subvocal speech is an activation of the vocal muscles even though no voice is heard. But why isn’t it heard? Is no voice produced at all or is the voice just very, very quiet? If no voice at all were produced, then subvocal speech couldn’t be the source of the hallucinated voice. But what if subvocal speech was just very quiet, and nobody but the patient could hear it? Could it help explain why schizophrenics hear voices?

Gould decided to look for the answer in one of his patients, whom we will call Lisa, a 46-year-old woman with paranoid schizophrenia. He thought to himself: If subvocal speech is a slight activation of the vocal muscles, leading to the production of extremely quiet sound, what if we were to make it louder? It should be possible, in theory, to amplify the unheard sound using a microphone. Gould pressed a small microphone to the skin of Lisa’s throat, and to his astonishment, the subvocal, previously inaudible voice emerged as a soft whisper: Airplanes… Yes, I know who they are… Also… Yes, she knows it so well. Lisa had just been telling Gould about her recent dream about airplanes. The voice continued:

Whisper: She knows I’m here. What are you going to do? She’s a voice I know. I don’t see where she goes. I know she is a wise woman. She doesn’t know what I want. She’s wise all right. People will think she is someone else.

Lisa: I’m hearing the voices again.

Whisper: She knows. She’s the most wicked thing in the whole wide world. The only voice I hear is hers. She knows everything. She knows all about aviation.

Lisa: I heard them say I have a knowledge of aviation.


Gould was taken aback. Whenever Lisa reported hearing the voice in her head, he heard whispers emanating from the microphone. What’s more, when asked about what the voice told her, Lisa’s description matched the content of the amplified speech word for word. The voice in Lisa’s head spoke at the same time, and said the same things, as the subvocal speech she herself generated.

Years later, a research group had a similar interaction with a 51-year-old male patient, whom we will call Roy, who often described his communication with an entity in his mind named Miss Jones. Just like in Gould’s experiment, researchers placed a microphone against Roy’s throat and recorded the following exchange:

Whisper: If you’re in his mind, you come out of there, but if you’re not in his mind you won’t come out of there. You want to stay there.

Examiner: Who said that?

Roy: Er she said…

Whisper: I said that.

Examiner: Are you talking to yourself?

Roy: No I don’t.  [To himself:] What is it?

Whisper: Mind your own business darling, I don’t want him to know what I was doing.

Roy: See that, I spoke to her to ask what she was doing and she said mind your own business.

Yet again, the timing and content of the hallucination matched the patient’s subvocal speech, words that were articulated using his own mind, lungs, and muscles. Despite how frighteningly real the “voice in his head” seemed to Roy, Miss Jones did not exist. Apparently, the voice he was hearing all along was his own.

But why doesn’t he know that?

* * *

We mumble under our breath all the time. Usually, we don’t notice it, but even if we do, we still recognize that it’s our own voice we are hearing, not that of some shady figure trespassing into our minds. So, what is it about schizophrenic patients that renders them helpless to recognize that they themselves are the ones talking?

Whenever a person hears her own voice, an unconscious recognition circuit lights up in the brain. It works by comparing the sound she hears with the expected sound of her voice, a prediction honed through years of experience with conversation. If the actual voice matches the prediction, the brain concludes that the voice was self-generated. Alternatively, if the heard voice doesn’t match the prediction, the brain concludes that someone else is speaking.

Schizophrenic patients like Brandon are believed to have a defect in this circuit. When Brandon hears his own voice, the unconscious matching system incorrectly identifies a mismatch (false negative) and prevents him from consciously recognizing that it is his own speech that he’s experiencing. His brain is left to reconcile two seemly contradictory pieces of information: on the one hand he hears a voice that isn’t his own. On the other hand, there’s nobody else in the room. So, whose voice is it?

The brain tries to generate the most logical explanation it can. Who could project a voice into Brandon’s mind who isn’t in his vicinity? Perhaps someone with access to impressive technologies—someone with the means and motivation to spy on him. Someone from the FBI? That’s possible. If an agent had implanted a chip in his brain, that would explain the voice in his head. If the agent has been spying on Brandon for a while, that would explain why the voice seems to know so much about him.

The brain is a master storyteller, designed to make sense of the chaos of our lives. It compensates for the presence of auditory hallucinations, caused by a defect in self-recognition, by writing a narrative to account for them. It’s no accident that schizophrenic patients reach for spy agencies, religious entities, or supernatural forces when describing the voices in their heads. These are theories that the brain concocts to explain how a foreign voice could infiltrate a mind, know it intimately, and torment its victim with relentless surveillance. Faced with such bewildering circumstances, the explanation the brain generates is surprisingly logical.

Excerpted fromNeuroLogic: The Brain’s Hidden Rationale Behind Our Irrational Behavior by Eliezer Sternberg, M.D. Out now from Pantheon.

Taken from Slate.Com


‘Killer Nanny’ Filmed Waving Child’s Severed Head Was ‘Haunted By Voices’ And ‘Kept Schizophrenia A Secret’

Warning this video may upset/offend

4 year old victimFamily members of Moscow’s ‘killer nanny’ said she ‘kept her schizophrenia a secret’ and ‘were shocked but not surprised’ that she took part in such a gruesome act.

In scenes that rocked the world on Monday, a black-clad woman was filmed walking the street holding on to a four-year-old girl’s severed head, threatening to “blow everyone up”.

Witnesses say Gyulchekhra Bobokulova, 38, was shouting “Allahu Akbar”, while pacing up and down outside a Moscow metro station in front of bewildered bystanders.

The mother-of-three was later detained by police for killing Nastya Meshcheryakova, who reportedly had learning disabilities.

The family of Bobokulova were interrogated by police the next day claiming she had been registered at a psychiatric clinic in Uzbekistan and tried kept her schizophrenia a secret, Daily Mail reports.

A police source in the ex-Soviet republic told the publication the parents of Bobokulova and her husband said they were “shocked with the cruel murder” but they “were not surprised” she did it.

“Everybody here knew Gyulchekhra. She was a strange woman, to put it mildly,” he said.

“Strange things often happened to her in spring time. Her parents watched her and tried to send her to the psychiatric clinic when spring came.”

The source also said she was officially registered as insane in 2000 and “her condition was gradually deteriorating”.

It is believed Gyulchekhra had schizophrenia for 15 years and tried to keep it a secret by never taking medical documents with her when applying for jobs.

The killer nanny then moved to Moscow where got the job as a nanny and only visited her three children, aged in their late teens and early 20s, during holidays.

When police interrogated the ‘killer nanny’ she told them she was “haunted by voices” before she decided to execute the child who had learning difficulties, LifeNews reports.

She also said her husband of 12 years “drove her mad” after he left her to be with another family.

The deranged woman also claims she was “kicked on to the streets and ” left to work around the clock”.

Only 16 hours after the shocking killing, the police source said she confessed to the crime and took police to the scene of the crime where she was reportedly cooperating.

In footage released by local media, Bobokulova can be seen in handcuffs as police escort her toward the burnt-out apartment.

She points to the entrance and block of apartments and took police up to the fifth-floor where she lived with the young girl’s family.

“I came here and took off my skirt, threw it in a rubbish bin. Got changed into what we wear to have prayer. A voice told me to wear so,” a police source claimed she said.

It was here she allegedly strangled the girl and severed her head off with a kitchen knife.

After the gruesome act, it is believed she left the child’s body in a cot and took only her head out on to the street before setting fire to the apartment and fleeing onto the street where she was later arrested.

Media reports said the nanny had looked after the girl like she was her own.

“I hate democracy. I am a terrorist. I want you dead,” Bobokulova shouted as she waved the head, according to footage broadcast by local television.

“You have become so hardened, you have eliminated so many of us. Look I am a suicide bomber, I will die, doomsday will come in a second,” she said in accented Russian.

Witness Alyona Kuratova told independent Dozhd TV that the woman was holding the head by its hair.

Kuratova described scenes of chaos, with police cars and ambulances arriving at the scene and some people yelling: “terror attack, terror attack.”

Another witness said the woman shouted that she would “kill everyone, blow up everyone.”

Some said the woman had paced up and down for some 20 minutes before she was detained near Oktyabrskoe Pole metro station.

“According to preliminary information, the child’s nanny… waited until the parents left the apartment with their elder child and, guided by unknown motives, killed the little one, set the apartment on fire and left the scene,” the Investigative Committee said.

Russians have in recent years seen all kinds of gruesome murders and attacks including the bombing of planes and the metro.

But the little girl’s murder sent shockwaves across Moscow, with many saying the woman had not been apprehended quickly enough and questioning the professionalism of police.

Taken from Au.News.Yahoo.Com

Mentally Ill Often Want To Work, But Need Help With Support Services

mental-health-at-work-WPMental illnesses such as schizophrenia and severe cases of bipolar disorder are major sources of disability. They are listed among the top 10 causes of disability worldwide, despite that each affects less than 1 percent of the overall population. The primary reason for this alarming statistic is the cognitive impairment as a result of the disease.

Medications for schizophrenia have been able to control psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. In fact, 65 percent of people with schizophrenia who take their medications have lasting control of their symptoms, and treatment of recurrences of bipolar illness with lithium is similarly successful. However, these medications have side effects and do not help with the cognitive changes in attention, memory and problem solving that affect schizophrenia and bipolar patients.

The largest cost item for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder is not medications, doctor’s visits or hospitalization. It is the indirect cost of not being able to work and support oneself or a family because of cognitive changes.

Cognitive impairments lead to major problems in someone’s ability to work and live independently. Only 10 percent of people with schizophrenia are working full time. The numbers are a little better for bipolar disorder, where the unemployment rate is 60 percent, but this is still a major problem. In many cases, the mental illness leads to unemployment, which leads directly to homelessness for patients and their families.

In addition, people who are unemployed typically do not have access to quality health insurance or may not have the money to make a co-payment if they are insured. Thus, unemployment leads to other consequences, such as not being able to afford necessary medications.

Yet insurance companies — particularly in Florida — are often reluctant to pay for the services that can assist patients with getting and keeping jobs, instead focusing on relapse and readmission to hospitals.

It is important for the public to realize that people with schizophrenia and bipolar want and need to work. Any assistance that can be provided, such as employers partnering with organizations trying to increase employment opportunities, makes a huge difference in the lives of patients and their families.


Philip Harvey, Ph.D., is director of Psychology at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System.


Taken from