SHARED PSYCHOSIS, a term that I had read in my books years ago, never imagining to see happening in the real world ever, yesterday crossed my path, however this time in reality. House of Secrets, a Netflix documentary based on a real story, features a horrific illustration of shared psychosis. In July 2018, a frightening incident made headlines on the Indian news channel. According to the reports, 11 people, four men (including two children) and seven women were found hanging from the ceiling of their house, creating a semblance of branches dangling from the tree. People were dumbfounded hearing the news. Well, they had every right to be bearing the stringency of the incident in mind. If news channels were running amock to boost their ratings by sensualizing the incident, law enforcement officers were being pushed to investigate and punish the culprits for committing such brutality. 11 people committing mass suicide? Out of the question. Common sense just can’t process it. So it was speculated, that they had been murdered, putting on the disguise of suicide.
The reality, on the other hand, turned out to be bizarre and shocking overstepping the human imagination.
During the search of the house, the investigative team, found 11 diaries, detailing extensive writings. Those writing apparently done by Lalit, dated back to 2007 when the patriarch of the family died leaving his son Lalit to assume the responsibility of the family. He was too mature for his age and came across as quite apt and authoritative to steer the family, so everyone in the household readily started heeding to his words. The fact that some of his decisions opened the door of fortune to the family, helped enhanced his reputation as the sole decision-maker, with zero opposition or objection from the members of the home. To be honest, reaping benefits from those decisions would have been reasonable if only his decisions had not involved the soul of his father (ghost). According to Lalit, he was embodying the spirit of his father which meant he was receiving instructions from him to improve their lives. Again, these claims should have raised their eyebrows, right? How could a dead person, direct your real-life and especially when you have a woman around, holding a degree in Sociology? Instead of doubting his mental health, or consulting him with a doctor to treat his delusions, his family came to be attending to his words without a slight protest.
11 people committing mass suicide? Out of the question. Common sense just can’t process it. So it was speculated, that they had been murdered, putting on the disguise of suicide.
For a decade, his delusional mind dominated their lives, making decisions about each and every thing, eventually culminating in mass-suicide.
On the contrary, it could not be called suicide either, because as per diaries,
-They willingly performed the ritual; tied their hands, taped their mouths, plugged their ears and folded their eyes to avoid any distraction.
-They were not even aiming to die. Their intentions were clearly to perform the ritual, wait for the souls of their ancestors to fill them with some divine powers and in the end, release them from those nooses. Alas! They wanted to bring into the world something beyond this world but could not see the imminent doom just before their eyes.
As per the psychiatrist and psychologists (conclusions based on commentary in diaries, and circumstantial evidence, suggesting the complete resignation of 10 people to one delusional), the family was indeed the victim of Shared Psychosis, which according to NCBI is an unusual psychiatric syndrome characterized by transferring a delusion among two or more people who are in a close relationship. The (inducer, primary) who has a psychotic disorder with delusions influences another individual or more (induced, secondary) with a specific belief. It commonly presents among two individuals, but in rare cases can include larger groups, i.e., family and called folie a famille.
The basic problem with mental illness goes around its poor prospects to be detected by others. Most of the time, it goes unnoticed unless incurring drastic havoc.
Lalit, the authority of the family, in this case, was Folie imposée, the primary subject to develop delusions (when did he develop those delusions was a mystery but probably after the death of his father) however, with sheer dominance and blind faith in his words, his family started acquiescing his delusions as true messages and began partaking in his delusions. Surprisingly, they had preserved quite a confidential routine, keeping the content of delusions privy to those eleven people and that being the case when the rest of the family and friends learned these conclusions, they outrightly vetoed them, accusing police of protecting the culprits.
Whatever the case, 11 people had to die because they were the victims of some delusions, BECAUSE THEY COULDN’T SIMPLY GUESS THE PRESENCE OF ANY MENTAL ERRATIC IN THE HEAD OF THEIR FAMILY. Besides, it’s not an isolated case, intertwining delusions with religious precepts, happening only in India. I don’t remember the exact details, but a woman in Pakistan had also claimed to have embodied Imam Mehdi or what, and even persuaded her adherents, including her family members, to lock themselves in some coffers and swim through the Arabian Sea to reach a particular destiny (i do not remember the name). Many people had died of suffocation, yet she continued to be idolized. Pakistan and India might claim to be the opposite forces, but when it comes to believing in superstitions, they quite become two peas in a pod.
This incident though happened two years ago, bringing about just yesterday to my knowledge, reflects a problematic attitude towards mental health. Lack of awareness coupled with blind belief in superstitions diminishes any possibility to deal with unusual happening in our minds. Besides, the fear of stigma, adds insults to injury.
Furthermore, the basic problem with mental illness goes around its poor prospects to be detected by others. Most of the time, it goes unnoticed unless incurring drastic havoc. On the other hand, even if acknowledged, mental illness is interpreted in two extremes: either it’s not-a-problem-at-all or it’s sheer madness, stamping mentally unstable with repulsive tags. A middle road to comprehend the problem of these people or treating them with utter respect is foreign to certain societies. You might feel the temptation to abhor Lalit, because he was the one who led his family to the guillotine but you can not blame him either, could you? People develop certain medical disorders, for instance, diabetes, but you don’t blame them for developing it, instead caution them to keep the tract of disease. The same is true for mental disorders. In this case, Lalit was oblivious to his problem, and it happens to be the case of almost every patient with the psychotic ordeal, obviously, you develop psychosis when you can not differentiate reality from fiction, right? So if you can’t even make that distinction, how are you supposed to discern your problem? That’s where comes the role of family and society. Unfortunately, the family of Lalit was under the profound spell of superstitious beliefs, besides, they were counting on him given he was the sole breadwinner, leaving no room for objection and creating every room for sharing his delusions.
The cost, in the end, was paid with their lives.