Clinical lycanthropy is recognised as a psychiatric disorder which creates the belief in an individual that they are transforming, or have already transformed into an animal.
Although ‘Lycan’ means wolf, the term is used more broadly in the field of psychiatry, meaning that the delusions displayed by people diagnosed with clinical lycanthropy are not exclusive to werewolves.
This mental state has been linked to a form of psychosis; a mind altering condition which is generally accompanied by delusions and sometimes hallucinations.
Symptoms of clinical lycanthropy include the patient reporting (during lucid periods) that they feel less human and more animal-like; patterns of feral behaviour such as scratching, crying, whining, barking or howling and moving on all fours; as well as the outright belief that they are an animal.
Treatment for the illness is difficult due to the varying degree of symptoms in what is an incredibly rare condition. Doctors tend to view the patients as expressing possible psychotic episodes through idiosyncratic outbursts; often as the result of deeper psychological issues such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression.
[adsense]Some patients have undergone physical changes which have been exacerbated by proprioception (a sense of self awareness of bodily functions and layout) or mental illness, leading to clinical lycanthropy. Studies have been conducted to determine whether neurological changes in relation to areas of the brain which control notions of bodily distortion have also contributed, and in two tests conducted by neuroimaging the subjects’ brains showed increased activity in those areas; suggesting that while their bodies were changing slightly their minds were exaggerating the situation.
There are countless werewolf films out there which while possibly entertaining are a far cry from the reality of clinical lycanthropy, but a good case of the disorder is well portrayed in Birdy, the 1984 film by Alan Parker, in which a young man with a love of birds is sent to Vietnam where the horrors of the war traumatise him so deeply that he mentally disassociates with his previous existence and believes that he has become a bird.
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