Cotard Delusion — The Rare Disorder That Makes You Think You’re Dead

Published March 7, 2018

Cotard delusion sounds like a silly disease, but feeling like you're dead, and like your body isn't your own is no laughing matter.

Jules Cotard Delusion

Wikimedia Commons
Jules Cotard, the man who discovered Cotard delusion.

In 1880, a woman known only as “Mademoiselle X” visited French doctor Jules Cotard. She complained of feelings of anxiety and despair, but also of another, more serious symptom – she refused to eat because she believed she was dead. Cotard dubbed her mysterious affliction “Cotard delusion,” and set out to document one of the rarest diseases known to man.

Since 1880, only a few real documented cases have been found. Many times, Cotard delusion is diagnosed as another mental disorder like schizophrenia, and because of the rarity, can be completely overlooked.

The symptoms of those suffering from Cotard Delusion haven’t changed much since 1880.

Aside from general feelings of anxiety, coupled with a strong feeling that one’s body is dead, the patient is usually in fine health. Mademoiselle X, for example, seemed to have no physical ailments at all, save for the fact that she believed she had no internal organs, nervous system, or torso, as they had all died. As with Mademoiselle X, Cotard delusion can be contained to a single part of one’s body, or spread to the entire thing.

It can seem strange, but the condition is a very real, and very serious one. Though the delusion itself has no detriments, the side effects can be lethal. Mademoiselle X stopped eating, as she believed that she had no stomach, and therefore died of starvation before psychiatric treatment could be administered.

Like Mademoiselle X, patients with Cotard syndrome often deny either their own existence, or the existence of parts of their body. They are able to see their body and know that they once had one, but do not understand that it is real anymore. They actually become convinced that that part of them has died, and that they are walking around as a dead person.

The disease presents itself in three stages.

During the first, germination, Cotard delusion sufferers first become anxious or depressed. In the second, blooming, they begin to develop the delusion that they are dead. In the third, and final stage, the chronic stage, it becomes almost impossible to convince the patient that they are, in fact, alive.

Though, there is some hope for those sufferers. As it is a relative of depression, antidepressants and psychiatric treatments can help, and people can revert to believing they are alive.

So, even if you feel so tired, you could be dead sometimes, just be glad that you’re not a victim of Cotard delusion, or those feelings could become a problem.

Next, check out alien hand syndrome, the disease that makes you believe your hand has a mind of its own. Then, read about the creepy origins of “saved by the bell.”

Katie Serena
Katie Serena is a New York City-based writer and a staff writer at All That Is Interesting.
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