Do Schizophrenics Commonly Accuse Think Others are Possessed?
May 28, 2011 9:26 PM   Subscribe

When a mentally ill person begins to talk about other people being "possessed by demons" is that a red flag?

A 30-ish male college student whom I know of has told someone that he suspects a female student of being possessed by demons. This male student is pretty strange and I think schizophrenic.

Is this a common delusion among schizophrenics? Is it a warning? Everyone keeps telling me the guy is harmless but I have reason to think otherwise.

Citations and links would be particularly helpful.
posted by LarryC to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
People with schizophrenics often suffer from intense and irrational bouts of paranoia. I recall a case study from a psychology course I took in high school that described how some people with the disease gravitated towards the gov't as the primary aggressor, whereas some (often those with religious upbringings) became obsessed with determining if the people around them were possessed. This scenario sounds like an example of that. I am not a doctor, nor am I a student of psychology by any means. The most experience I've had with someone with schizophrenia is a classmate's relative who had extreme OCD. They were descending into schizophrenia and their ability to rationalize potential threats was decreasing exponentially.

Has this man made any remarks about trying to exorcise the female student by use of force or anything like that? Is he preoccupied with exposing her or getting rid of her in any way? If so, that might be something to anonymously report. The school he attends should have a system in place for a "safety check".
posted by patronuscharms at 9:35 PM on May 28, 2011

I think I've said the same thing about certain not-so-nice people I've been to school with. What proof do you have that this person is schizophrenic?
posted by trogdole at 9:35 PM on May 28, 2011

Even if it's common, it's disturbing. How long until he takes a hammer to drive out the "demons"? Do you really need citations? Does the woman know this guy thinks she's posessed? If not, she needs to know that a fellow student is having weird thoughts about her, so she can take appropriate measures to protect herself.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:36 PM on May 28, 2011

Sounds like a warning flag to me.

More importantly, I think -- what are you going to do if you get a citation or link or otherwise just decide that it is a warning flag? Report this to someone? Find out who that is and explain the situation, and let them decide if it's a red flag.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:36 PM on May 28, 2011

Response by poster: I have (and this has been made clear to me) no authority or standing in this case and the school administrators are trying to downplay the matter. Hence my desire for expert opinion.
posted by LarryC at 9:42 PM on May 28, 2011

I think you're going to need more evidence than his apparent belief that this woman is possessed by demons.

Saying someone is possessed by demons could be due to any number of things.

And most people are strange.

And I'm not sure how you'd get an expert opinion without committing the man.
posted by mleigh at 9:46 PM on May 28, 2011

Unfortunately you won't really be able to find it here, for an expert to have an opinion they would need to actually interview this guy in person and they wouldn't be able to share it with you.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:47 PM on May 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

School administrators, as moronic as they can be, have to tread very, very carefully in a situation like this because one wrong step could = a legal quagmire that never ends. Unless the man has made quantifiable threats or appears to be a danger to himself or another person, you really have no recourse here because no amount of citations or "proof" will = a substitute for a qualified professional's opinion.
posted by patronuscharms at 9:48 PM on May 28, 2011

Here's a woman who murdered her 4kids because they were "possessed".
Screw the pussy-footing administrators. This woman is in danger. Either man up and tell her or tell some off-campus authority. If you tell her, she can decide what steps to take. Keeping an innocent person in the dark about someone else's delusions about her is wrong.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:53 PM on May 28, 2011

Is there an M.D. at the school you can talk to? Or is the M.D. off-limits to you? Get ahold of a MSW or a Psychologist at the University Counseling Center and let them know you have a student who is frankly psychotic with florid delusions.
posted by mlis at 9:56 PM on May 28, 2011

Also, please consider that just because the school administrators aren't letting you know what they are/are not doing to follow up on this, doesn't mean that they aren't doing anything. They may be downplaying it to you even if they have reached out to this student, because due to privacy laws and policies they can't give you details on another student's mental health situation or conversations they may be having with him to assess/intervene.

The internet really can't tell you if a specific individual may be a harm to himself or others. Talk to someone else at the school (counseling center is a great recommendation) if you feel like your concerns aren't being heard.
posted by Atalanta at 10:00 PM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's unlikely, but not impossible, that he is dangerous.

However, mental health professionals can't do much unless someone a) voluntarily comes for treatment or b) is a proven danger to himself or others. That usually means concrete threats or actions, not just vague talk of demons or "florid delusions," whatever those are.

If you really believe he is dangerous, I would recommend contacting the girl he was talking about and letting her decide what action to take, if any.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:06 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Typically, the religious delusion themes are persecutory (often by the devil or demons)" cite [pdf]
posted by mlis at 10:08 PM on May 28, 2011

If this person is schizophrenic, they have a risk of violence that is greater than the general population, if that's what you're asking. However, what people tend not to point out quite as readily is that their risk is significantly lower than that of people with substance abuse problems and other diagnoses. [Cite] You are pretty much surrounded by addicts of all kinds, and statistically this student is less likely to be a danger to others than those people are.

So, does a belief in demonic posession mean this student is specifically schizophrenic? No. If this person is schizophrenic, does it mean they will be violent? No. Chances are slightly higher, but not as high as you think and less than many other people around you.

Rabid fear of people with mental health issues is not helpful. If you think he's decompensating, I'd try coming at this from an approach of concern and trying to get him some help. Which he probably needs. This could be something as simple as a meds issue.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:08 PM on May 28, 2011 [15 favorites]

Larry C, have to go to sleep now, but I would advise conducting Google searches. Here are some some search strings to play around with:

"thought disorder decompensate violence" (also change the domain to .gov to get NIH info) also run one with decompensation)

"thought disorder demonic possession"
"schizophrenia demonic possession"
"psychosis demons"
et cetera
posted by mlis at 10:14 PM on May 28, 2011

This is very basic but might be helpful: Schizophrenia
posted by mlis at 10:25 PM on May 28, 2011

Are you sure he's mentally ill/schizophrenic? Because I've heard many very religious people make these same kind of statements. Of course when they say it, it's somehow not a delusion, but a deeply and commonly held belief.

I'm not taking a shot at religion (well sort of) but my point is that in some cases it's hard to differentiate between weird thoughts and beliefs and genuine delusion and insanity. Plus, unless you have some sort of substantial evidence or proof that he's planning on harming either himself or anyone else, there's really very little you can do other than warn the person he said it about to be wary. Having a false belief, even a creepy one, isn't illegal, nor does it automatically make someone dangerous.
posted by katyggls at 10:42 PM on May 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I must be living in an alternate universe. If I heard that someone considered me to be possessed by demons ( and not in a snarky, trying-to-be-funny way), I would do my best to avoid that person. Obviously, context is all, but at the very least, can someone tell this woman about this man's delusion? It's not cute, it's not a euphemism for a crush, and if he acts upon this delusion, the effects could be extremely unfortunate, to say the least.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:51 PM on May 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

I came in to say the same thing as katyggls.

I've mentioned it before on MeFi – I was raised by fundamentalist Christians. It was pretty common, not run-of-the-mill really, but happened often enough, that people were claimed to be "possessed by demons". It was never a sign of violence to come for the demon-possessed person. In fact, some people in our congregation claimed themselves to be possessed by demons, had the demons speak in tongues when asked by our pastor, and then, still according to pastor and person involved, the demons were "exorcised", with much flailing about and cries as the "demon" resisted exorcism, then a return to normal afterwards. (One woman regularly "possessed by demons" was a friend of my mother's. She was genuine, she wasn't acting – I think she probably did have schizophrenia, she was never well for long, it was sad.)

The main goal was that the demons be exorcised by acceptance of Christ in their lives.

I realize that sounds completely wack. But in the Evangelical world, it's part of the background, so to speak.

You could ask an Evangelical-speak question to your friend: "do you think accepting Christ helps with that?" If he answers "yes" then I don't think you have much to worry about other than an eventual attempt to convert you and/or others. If he answers "no" then something else is probably going on. Encourage him, gently and constructively, to seek counseling (therapy).
posted by fraula at 1:56 AM on May 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

DarlingBri and fraula are both right.
-If someone I had previously (known to be) diagnosed as schizophrenic started talking about demonic possession, I'd want their psychiatrist to adjust their treatment. Not having made that diagnosis, I wouldn't jump to it on that alone. There are other potential medical causes and non-medical causes.
-I would not be particularly threatened. Mental illness is very scary to lots of people - as Jessamyn said in the Metatalk about canvassers, once someone is ignoring some piece of the social contract you intuitively don't know what else they'll ignore - but the potential for violence is overstated.
-Nobody is telling you about any treatment or diagnosis for that person because without their permission that would be illegal.
-The person who was the focus of the delusion might have some standing to claim to feel threatened.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:48 AM on May 29, 2011

Assuming the person is not joking then hell yes, it's a red flag. A modern, educated person who sincerely believes that people get possessed by demons is a person who needs help, and needs to be watched carefully until he gets it.
posted by Decani at 7:01 AM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

A friend who is schizophrenic's default setting is that everybody is kind of a little out to get her. When she starts talking about the government putting chips in her head and that other people are secretly working for the government, things are taking a bad turn. This is not a joke, to be clear. I thought the chip in the head thing was a made-up-for-the-movies type thing before the issues with my friend.
posted by santaslittlehelper at 7:47 AM on May 29, 2011

I am surprised at people who are subtly chiding those of us who feel that this is a bad sign, because it can be a very bad sign. No, it's not 100% certain that he's going to start knifing people, but that doesn't mean no one should be worried. That's not how risk works.

It's also interesting that some evangelical Christians believe in demon possession, but the fact that some people believe X and are sane does not mean a whole hell of a lot if we're talking about someone who is genuinely mentally ill and suddenly starts talking about X.

My personal, non-expert opinion is that MLIS is probably spot-on in their concern, and that your "feeling" that he's strange or that something is wrong is worth listening to.

What that means for your behavior or your reaction, I'm not sure, but I agree with MLIS that you should try to let someone with mental health training know about the situation.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:18 AM on May 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed. Absolutely do not turn this into a derail discussion about religion. That side conversations to email. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:25 AM on May 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all for some important perspectives. There is a LOT going on here but I feel a little better about things fro your input.
posted by LarryC at 10:33 AM on May 29, 2011

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