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Facebook Causes ‘Psychotic Episodes and Delusions’, Claims TAU Study

‘As internet access becomes increasingly widespread, so do related psychopathologies’

By: Victoria Woollaston
Published: May 8th, 2013 in Health » World

Facebook and other social networking sites can actually send you mad, according to scientists in Israel.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University have linked psychotic episodes in patients to internet addiction and delusions caused by virtual relationships cultivated on social networking sites.

Although all the participants had underlying problems of loneliness, none had any history of psychosis or drug abuse, the team say.

Lead researcher Doctor Uri Nitzan of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Shalvata Mental Health Care Centre said: ‘As internet access becomes increasingly widespread, so do related psychopathologies.

‘Computer communications such as Facebook and chat groups are an important part of this story.’

The study took an in-depth look at three of Dr Nitzan’s patients.

The studies found a direct link between psychotic episodes and their internet or Facebook communications.

All three of Dr Nitzan’s patients sought refuge from a lonely situation and found solace in intense virtual relationships.

Although these relationships were positive at first, they eventually led to feelings of hurt, betrayal, and invasion of privacy.

Dr Nitzan said: ‘The patients shared some crucial characteristics, including loneliness or vulnerability due to the loss of or separation from a loved one, relative inexperience with technology, and no prior history of psychosis or substance abuse.

‘In each case, a connection was found between the gradual development and exacerbation of psychotic symptoms, including delusions, anxiety, confusion, and intensified use of computer communications.

‘The good news is that all of the patients, who willingly sought out treatment on their own, were able to make a full recovery with proper treatment and care.’

Dr Nitzan said: ‘All of the patients developed psychotic symptoms related to the situation, including delusions regarding the person behind the screen and their connection through the computer.

‘Two patients began to feel vulnerable as a result of sharing private information, and one even experienced tactile hallucinations, believing that the person beyond the screen was physically touching her.

‘Some of the problematic features of the internet relate to issues of geographical and spatial distortion, the absence of non-verbal cues, and the tendency to idealise the person with whom someone is communicating, becoming intimate without ever meeting face-to-face.’

He added that mental health professionals should not overlook the internet’s influence when speaking to patients.

‘When you ask somebody about their social life, it’s very sensible to ask about Facebook and social networking habits, as well as internet use.

‘How people conduct themselves on the internet is quite important to psychiatrists, who shouldn’t ignore this dimension of their patients’ behaviour patterns.’

Dr Nitzan said: ‘Our study shows that while technologies such as Facebook have numerous advantages, some patients are harmed by these social networking sites, which can attract those who are lonely or vulnerable in their day-to-day lives or act as a platform for cyber-bullying and other predatory behaviour.

‘All of these factors can contribute to a patient’s break with reality, and the development of a psychotic state.’

The paper was published in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences.

The authors plan to do more in-depth research on Facebook, studying the features and applications that have the potential to harm patients emotionally or permit patients to cause emotional harm to others.

Related articles: Facebook, Tel Aviv University, Study, Social Media, Health
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