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Mental Health

Mental illness

05/11/2009

Question:

Dear Doctor,

I come from a village in Africa (Kenya) and I have a question. My cousins grandparent died of depression or so we thought, and there has been cases of `madness`s from their maternal side because even their uncle died of the same, they all exhibits peculiar traits likes being overly shy and always laughing, now my cousin and his younger brother have gone mad in that they have lost sense with reality though they fully understand their surrounding too well, the older brother has attempted suicide twice, now here comes my big question...could this be madness or is it a genetic disease like depression sort of or viral because to add salt to injury once they become sick jiggers manifest themselves in all parts of their bodies and no one else in the family is affected by the jiggers and eventually as history has it, they all die from the jigger manifestation. Dr. is there a disease out there viral or otherwise that apes the symptoms of a mentally ill person, because why else would the jiggers only attack those ill and leave all the family members? could it be something in their blood? I am quite confused coz this has now left us in dilemma and we are thinking it could be a curse! your feedback will be greatly appreciated.

Many thanks.

Answer:

You ask many interesting questions, but unfortunately, I am unable to answer many of them in an Internet situation. As is true in most medicine, culture, history, and language are an integral part of how physicians and patients make their stories known to each other. The Internet does not allow me to interact with you in a way that helps me really understand how you, your family, and your village perceive and experience mental illness. For example, I do not know if what you call "madness," might be what a doctor might call schizophrenia or depression or anxiety or some other mental disorder.

There are types of schizophrenia and severe anxieties where people feel they are infested with bugs or germs. Some mental illness "runs in families," and many people in a family, due to their genetics, may become ill with the illness. Some serious brain infections or injuries may also lead a person to act "crazy," or to be delirious, as a doctor would say.

I am sorry I cannot answer your specific questions. Because you have Internet access, you might look at some of the weblinks and see if they have any information you can use.

Good luck.

Related Resources:

Anxiety Disorders of America
Anxiety (NIMH)
Bipolar (NIMH)

For more information:

Go to the Mental Health health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Nancy   Elder, MD Nancy Elder, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati