Walking Dead Syndrome

Last Updated: 28 Feb 2023
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The Walking Dead syndrome is considered a rare disease. I believe everyone in this existence has a purpose on this vast place we call earth. However, there are people diagnosed with a syndrome who believe they have no soul or convinced themselves they are dead. The “Walking Dead Syndrome” is also commonly known as “Cotard’s Syndrome”. In this paper, I will refer to this syndrome as “Cotard’s syndrome”.

Cotard’s syndrome is linked with other mental illnesses which could explain a person’s state of mind of feeling non-existent in society. I will further discuss eight aspects of this syndrome: defining the Walking Dead Syndrome, defining mental illness, description of several mental illnesses associated with this syndrome, classifications of Cotard’s syndrome, analysis of patients, diagnosis of the syndrome, and types of treatments available for patients.

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Defining Walking Dead Syndrome or Cotard’s Syndrome

Many people I discussed this topic with never heard of the “Walking Dead Syndrome”. The Walking Dead Syndrome was first created by French neurologist, Jules Cotard, hence, named “Cotard’s Syndrome”. He was a French neurologist who first described this psychiatric condition. The first reference to the syndrome was made in the year 1880 when Jules Cotard gave a lecture in Paris. In this lecture, he described various degrees of the syndrome, while he said that a person who resorts to despair and self-hatred begins in the early stages of this disorder.

With deterioration, the person might go to the extent of denying the very existence of himself or herself. There are detached from the sense of the existence of self. Patients portray themselves similarly to the concept of “zombies”. Hollywood has portrayed horror and science fiction-based movies on “zombies” or the “walking dead”. In the movies, zombies are typically mean and fond of human flesh, they groan and cannot talk, have incredible strength, and display rotting flesh.

A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being but completely lacks conscious experience. If we suddenly lost our minds, or consciousness our bodies might continue to run on for a while, our hearts might continue to beat, and we might breathe while asleep and digest food. But without the contribution made by minds, the behavior could not show characteristically human features. In the Urban Dictionary, 1999-2011, a zombie is defined “as a deceased human being who has partially returned to life due to undeterminable causes.

The brain retains base facilities, namely gross motor function. In its near-mindless state, it grasps no remains of emotion, personality, or sensation of pain. In rare cases, some of the reanimated have reflexively performed routine activities from their past lives”. The people diagnosed with Walking Dead Syndrome have similar portrayals including not having internal organs and smelling of rotting flesh. A hypothetical analogy can be explained when most of us have woken up after a really good night out.

Our first drive in the morning was motivated by a desire for food and coffee. If we as a society experience chemical or radiological contamination, we might be experiencing a hangover from hell. Our higher thought would be destroyed, the neural system would be degraded, and leave just the body running on its primary functions. Defining Mental Illness Since the beginning of man, I think there has been mental illness, and chemical imbalance generates a huge part, and some people just do not have the ability to use parts of their brain for reason and logic.

According to Sorrentino, Wilk, and Newmaster (2009), a mental illness can be: “caused by a combination of genetic, biological, personality, and environmental factors, is a disturbance in a person’s ability to cope with or adjust to stress; the person’s thinking, mood, and behaviors are affected, and functioning is impaired …mental illnesses affect people of all ages, culture, and educational and income levels. The onset of most mental illnesses occurs during adolescence and young adulthood”. Most mental illnesses are brought on by the stresses of life, money, property, and consumption.

Having a mental illness varies from person to person and if you cannot go about your day as you normally would due to a condition then it is a mental illness. An example would be having an “anxiety disorder”, and if you cannot leave your house anymore due to petrifying fear, then there is clearly a problem. Unless of course, you cannot recognize that you are having problems and you are posing a threat to yourself or others, then you can be forcibly placed under the guidance of a psychologist. Mental illness can be contributed to either biological, psychological, or environmental factors.

The biological factors can be attributed to genetics or “mental disorders tend to run in families, suggesting a hereditary factor…the number of close relatives a person has who suffer from depression or other mood disorders is the best predictor of the likelihood that the individual will develop a mood disorder”. In addition, psychological aspects can be contributed to emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, and environmental causes can be defined as a person living in poverty or substance abuse.

Mental Illnesses Associated with Cotard’s Syndrome

People diagnosed with “Cotard’s Syndrome” have been treated for a mental illness or combination of bipolar, delusions, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder, to name a few. The major mental illnesses are painful, pervasive, disruptive, and usually disabling. Firstly, “bipolar disorder” is defined as “a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function”. Whereas, “delusions” are the “false beliefs that are firmly held”. An example is a person who has grandeur delusions or paranoid tendencies.

In the grandiose subtype, the person is convinced that he has some great talent or has made some important discovery, they have an inflated sense of self-worth. In addition, their delusions center on their own importance, such as believing that they have done or created something of extreme value or think they have a "special mission". There is a reference to another type of delusion known as “nihilistic delusions”. This type of delusion describes a person “focused on the individual’s body, including loss of body parts, being dead, or not existing at all”.

Furthermore, Cotard syndrome created a new type of depression which “is described as anxious melancholia, ideas of damnation or rejection, insensitivity to pain, delusions or nonexistence concerning one’s own body, and delusions of immorality”. This type of delusion is a major attribute of Cotard’s syndrome. Thirdly, “schizophrenia” “is an extremely complex mental health disorder characterized by delusions, hallucinations, disturbances in thinking, and withdrawal from social activity”. News and entertainment media tend to link mental illnesses including schizophrenia to criminal violence. Most people with schizophrenia, however, are not violent toward others but are withdrawn and prefer to be left alone. Lastly, “schizoaffective disorder” is described as a “person having symptoms of both schizophrenic and bipolar disorder”. Some disorders will cause parts of the brain to stop performing their normal functions. These can leave people out of control and disoriented (not knowing what they themselves are doing).

Classifications of Cotard’s Syndrome

In its early stages, Cotard’s syndrome is characterized by a vague feeling of anxiety with a varying time p from weeks to years. This anxious state gradually augments and can result in nihilistic delusions where denial of life or denial of body parts are the prominent features. The patient loses a sense of reality. Despite the delusion of being dead, these patients show an increased tendency to auto-mutilation (self-harm) or suicidal behavior. A case study involving 100 patients, in Debruyne, Portzky, Van den Eynde, and Audenaert, reveals three types of Cotard’s syndrome.

The first is a form of “psychotic depression” in which anxiety, melancholia, delusions of guilt, and auditory hallucinations are the more prominent features. The second class is “Cotard’s syndrome Type I”, which is associated with hypochondriac and nihilistic delusions. The third type is “Cotard’s syndrome Type II”, which includes anxiety, depression, delusions of immortality, nihilistic delusions, and suicidal behavior are characteristic features”. However, Debruyne, Portzky, Peremans, and Audenaert, 2011, a case study conducted in 1999, identified three stages of Cotard’s syndrome.

The first stage, the germination stage, is characterized by important hypochondriac cenesthopathy and depressive mood. A diagnosis of Cotard’s syndrome cannot be made in this stage yet. In the blooming stage, the characteristic features of Cotard’s syndrome (nihilistic delusions, delusions of immorality together with anxiety and negativism) are seen. The last stage, the chronic stage is differentiated into two forms: one with persistent emotional disturbances (depressive type) and the second where depressive symptoms are less prominent (paranoid type).

The two classifications described above have assisted in diagnosing Cotard’s syndrome. Similar features displayed are nihilistic delusions, depressive mood, and anxiety. Analysis This syndrome does not affect a specific category of people. A study of 100 patients, revealed that “Cotard’s syndrome was diagnosed in 2 of 349 patients…taking into account only severely depressed older adult patients. In addition, the average age of the person studied was 52 years of age, however, the study also suggested that Cotard’s was occasionally described in children and adolescents.

Furthermore, according to Wani et al., “this syndrome is typically related to depression and is mostly found in middle-aged or older people. In the analysis the following results were displayed: “depressive mood (89%), nihilistic delusions (69%), anxiety (65%), delusions of guilt (63%), delusions of immortality (55%), hypochondriac delusions (58%)”. Diagnosis The diagnosis reveals a psychological and neurological aspect of Cotard’s syndrome. The “depersonalization phenomenon” as described in Debruyne, Portzky, Van den Eynde, and Audenaert, 2009, is referred to using German terminology leib (body for me) and korper (body as such), korper becomes more prominent than leib and the body less associated with the self (leib), depersonalization onset can then occur. However, in depersonalization, the patient feels as if he or she is dead (in the difference of affect), whereas, in Cotard’s syndrome, the patient is convinced that he or she is dead (lack of feeling). Cotard’s syndrome is often associated with parietal lobe lesions. Compared with controls, patients with Cotard’s syndrome have more brain atrophy in general and more median frontal lobe atrophy in particular.

Cotard’s syndrome may be associated with multifocal brain atrophy and medial frontal lobe disease. Neurological assessments were performed and findings resulted in patients affected by “parietal brain dysfunction” and structural brain abnormalities. Recent discoveries have indicated that Cotard’s syndrome was associated with multifocal brain atrophy and interhemispheric fissure enlargement. The interhemispheric fissure enlargement means “parietal lobe lesions” or bending in the frontal and occipital regions and this abnormality has also been observed in schizophrenic patients.

Others have described an enlargement of the third and lateral ventricles. One patient, patient was diagnosed with a schizophrenia disorder and a left-sided hypoperfusion in the temporal, parietal, and frontal lobes. The medical term of hypoperfusion is defined as a “decreased blood flow through an organ”. In addition, the patient experienced improvements of the inferior frontal and left hypoperfusion and there was evidence of decreased hyperperfusion of the left temporal lobe…”.

Treatments There are several methods utilized to treat mental health struggles. A patient can seek professional assistance by psychology or psychiatry therapy and/or the utilization of medication. If you lived in the 16th century with any undefined mental disorder, you were considered "possessed by the Devil" and cast away to some godforsaken monastery dungeon in which monks would constantly pray for and exorcise you. The Catholic Church used a methodical guidebook to describe all behavioral aspects and associations of witchcraft, satanism, etc. nd utilized this upon people who suffered from mental or behavioral maladies, and it was not commonly understood in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. In the medieval ages, they were burned because they thought demons haunted the mentally ill. In later years, we willfully experimented on them, cutting into their bodies and brains to "fix them", this was called, trepanation. The “evidence of trepanation has been found in prehistoric human remains from Neolithic times onward.

Cave paintings indicate that people believed the practice would cure epileptic seizures, migraines, and mental disorders”. It is really disgusting and is the major reason that even today it is to some a badge of humiliation instead of just an illness. Complete recovery may occur spontaneously and suddenly as the onset of Cotard’s syndrome. There are several reports of successful pharmacological treatment of Cotard’s syndrome. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is considered an important treatment option for Cotard’s syndrome.

It is noted, in Debruyne, Portzky, Van den Eynde, and Audenaert, 2009, that young patients' use of mood stabilizers should be considered because Cotard’s syndrome in this population is often part of a bipolar disorder. Successful treatment with ECT and the patient with underlying major depressive disorder resulted in the recovery of left and right temporal hypoperfusion and normalization of profusion in the frontal cortex was reported after treatment with antidepressants. Please be aware that people who have true mental illnesses do suffer.

They want more than anything to be able to feel and function like other people and they will actively seek help. The reality is that certain medications and treatments help those who are suffering from these conditions. Conclusion Mental illness is not a modern invention. The mentally ill have been recognized in one form or another by every culture we have a record of. How they were perceived and what their value has largely changed. Some people do not retreat into their minds as much as they are supposed to, while others spend all their time there.

What we eat and breathe and drink affects our health and our brain, and a healthy individual's brain tends to have more to work with and develop all the right chemicals and nerve sheaths. A good parent with a strong sense of empathy realizes that their child is a thinking, growing human being and will always need that light touch that points them in the "right direction" and prevent them from getting "lost". The right nature and nurturing are essential for healthy development. Some cases of these disorders I believe could be a simple lack of the ingredients to solve this chemical imbalance.

Given that our brain is constantly changing accordingly with the times, a chronic chemical imbalance quickly becomes more than just that, as the brain has grown and changed around this shortcoming. The kind of understanding you wish people had for those with mental disorders would be a universal understanding for all if people would look into themselves and observe their own thoughts and behaviors. We are our best test subjects since we have full access to all the "data", and by observing ourselves totally (mentally, developmentally, chemically) we can apply our understanding to others and learn from the experience.

People need to care about how people's minds work in general, understanding "you guys" would come with the turf, and communication with our angry neighbors would be much more effective since we'd all see where everyone is coming from. Philosophers have long contemplated human happiness, and how to live a "good" life, in harmony with our own nature. The problem is that humans do not really know what makes them happy, and what they think will, or will not, and instead, they find contempt and superficial pleasures they believe will satisfy them.

As a result, some people will not live a good and peaceful life that satisfies the majority of people. The fact is not everyone needs medication, but there are those who do. Some need it temporarily, some for a lifetime. Some simply need therapy, and some benefit from dietary changes. I believe understanding is the highest ideal we should seek to attain. Understanding and being honest with ourselves about ourselves and applying our own understanding to others may help us see that we are not as different as we'd like to believe.

I believe that sense of commonality with all human beings can generate empathy, compassion, and ultimately peace in all of us. It is when we categorize each other, and ourselves, and place value on those categories then we breed hatred, ignorance, and fear.


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Walking Dead Syndrome. (2018, Oct 08). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/walking-dead-syndrome/

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