Prolonged solitary confinement causes schizophrenia?

  • #1
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I read an interesting bit in the magazine psychology today about how prison inmates who are kept in solitary confinement for very long periods of time (months/years on end) can develop severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, delusions, as well as visual and auditory hallucinations.

This can even happen to people who have no prior history of mental illness.

Can anyone verify these claims?
 
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  • #2
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Didn't the article have references? or if you search on the authors you might find some references.
 
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Yes, of course. The human mind is not designed to handle the lack of social and mental stimulation. It will start making things up if there's nothing there. I believe for the inmates to be diagnosed with schizophrenia the symptoms would have to persist after leaving solitary, which is entirely possible with the induced change in brain chemistry. I don't know the average for when it occurs but I'd assume it's different for everyone.

Edit by mentor: removed non-peer reviewed links
 
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  • #4
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The United Nations and the Geneva conventions have condemned extended solitary confinement to be outright psychological torture.
 
  • #5
Evo
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Please be sure that references posted be actual links to scientific studies, preferably peer-review accepted journals or articles in an accepted publication which reference peer reviewed studies. Linking to google scholar that has questionable links mixed with valid sources is not acceptable, also blogs, opinion pieces, etc... are not acceptable.
 
  • #6
berkeman
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I read an interesting bit in the magazine psychology today
Didn't the article have references? or if you search on the authors you might find some references.
@ElliotSmith -- which issue of Psychology Today was it in? Do you still have the issue? If not, I may know somebody who subscribes to it so we can get the references...
 
  • #7
Bystander
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Be interesting to know if the study included any pre-confinement mental health assessments.
 
  • #8
Pythagorean
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The closest thing I've found, but no schizophrenia.

Incidence of psychiatric disorders developed in the prison was significantly higher in SC prisoners (28%) than in non-SC prisoners (15%). Most disorders were adjustment disorders, with depressive disorders coming next. Incident psychotic disorders were rare.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/...ionid=4E6428EC338AF8647D4E1A335EF4A4C2.f02t02

Here's another that posits that social isolation is one of the primary causes of schizophrenia:

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2768057?sid=21105514297523&uid=3739448&uid=4&uid=2&uid=3737720

But we have to be careful about interpretation because solitary confinement can make an undiagnosed mental illness that's already there bad enough to observe, since solitary confinement is a major stressor. One interpretation could be that people with undiagnosed mental illness are more likely to end up in solitary, which exasperates the mental illness.

http://www.jaapl.org/content/38/1/104.short
 
  • #9
Evo
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Here's another that posits that social isolation is one of the primary causes of schizophrenia:

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2768057?sid=21105514297523&uid=3739448&uid=4&uid=2&uid=3737720
I believe that since this paper was published in 1934, research appears to disprove this theory, that isolation is the primary cause of schizophrenia, although it may exacerbate the illness.

The Causes of Schizophrenia
While an exact cause of schizophrenia is still unknown, researchers do know that the brains of people living with schizophrenia are different from those undiagnosed with the illness. It is too early to classify schizophrenia as either a neurodevelopmental (impairment of the growth and development of the brain) or a neurodegenerative (progressive loss of structure or function of neurons) disorder, as both seem to occur over the course of the illness. Research strongly suggests the emergence of schizophrenia is a result of both genetic and environmental factors.

Genetics
Unlike other genetic conditions such as Huntington's or cystic fibrosis, it is believed that no one single gene causes the disease by itself but rather that several genes are associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia. While schizophrenia occurs in one percent of the general population, having a history of family psychosis greatly increases the risk. Schizophrenia occurs at roughly ten percent of people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder, i.e., a parent or sibling. However, the highest risk occurs when an identical twin is diagnosed with schizophrenia. The unaffected twin has a roughly 50 percent chance of developing the disorder.

The genetic component appears to extend beyond family environment. For example, children with a parent living with schizophrenia who were put up for early adoption still develop schizophrenia at a higher rate than the rest of the of the population.
http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Mental_Illnesses/Schizophrenia9/Causes.htm [Broken]
 
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  • #10
Vanadium 50
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Evo's right - without a reference, this is impossible to discuss.
Bystander and Pythagorean are right as well - there are a number of uncontrolled variables. Ideally, one would like to compare two groups of prisoners selected for solitary confinement, one cohort so confined, and another cohort not so confined. The selection of the two groups has to be as random as possible, and should not depend on behavior. I doubt this is possible, so studies will have to make certain assumptions.
 
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  • #11
Pythagorean
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Evo's post reminds me of some recent research that was able to classify schizophrenia into eight categories based on genetics:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25219520

Of course, this relates to "risk architecture". Having the clusters doesn't automatically make you a schizophrenic, but stressful life events coupled with the right genetics can probably help it to manifest.
 
  • #12
berkeman
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I've contacted my psychologist friend with a subscription to Psychology Today, and she is not able to find this article so far. Little help?
 
  • #14
berkeman
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Thanks Pyth! :-)
 
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One should remember here that certain meditative practices require that people live secluded for long periods of time. Many times these seclusions will be much like solitary confinement.

I would go so far as to hypothesize, that a person trained in meditation would be able to cope with solitary confinement to a much larger degree than would the average person. To take it further, it is not the mere seclusion and confinement that will cause trouble; it is your thoughts.
 
  • #16
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when I developed schizo I was basically alone in my apartment for 9 months with my only contacts with the outside world being a hacking forum, I'd go out to get food and do laundry and buy weed but other than that I spent about 16 hours a day on the computer.
 
  • #17
Ryan_m_b
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Evo's right - without a reference, this is impossible to discuss.
Bystander and Pythagorean are right as well - there are a number of uncontrolled variables. Ideally, one would like to compare two groups of prisoners selected for solitary confinement, one cohort so confined, and another cohort not so confined. The selection of the two groups has to be as random as possible, and should not depend on behavior. I doubt this is possible, so studies will have to make certain assumptions.
An experimental study like this would be out of the question, it would never get past ethical considerations, but there are studies that have looked at the prevelance of various mental illnesses in inmates experiencing solitary confinement and those that have not:

A longitudinal study of prisoners on remand. Repeated measures of psychopathology in the initial phases of solitary versus nonsolitary confinement.

4. Discussion said:
There were three main findings in this study of the initial remand imprisonment phase:
(i) Developments of quantitative psychopathological measures were generally different in the initial remand phase among SC subjects compared to those in non-SC.

(ii) The non-SC group had improvement in functioning and had a decreasing level of psychopathology in the first 2–3 months of imprisonment, while the SC group was unchanged over time in SC.

(iii) Transferral from SC to non-SC reduced the scores of psychopathology on most variables.
One should remember here that certain meditative practices require that people live secluded for long periods of time. Many times these seclusions will be much like solitary confinement.
I very much doubt that meditative retreat is as psychologically stressful as solitary confinement. The big difference is that the first one is a personal choice. You can leave your self-induced isolation at any time, in the latter case prison inmates are forced into it and have little to no choice in the matter. Add to that the completely empty environment (concrete floor, walls, a bed and a toilet) and cheap food.
 
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  • #18
strangerep
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I would go so far as to hypothesize, that a person trained in meditation would be able to cope with solitary confinement to a much larger degree than would the average person.
Well, I know one person very well who'd spend hours each day in "meditation", attempting to "commune, and become one with, higher beings on the inner planes". o0)

The end result was a psychotic breakdown -- a complicated mix of schizophrenia, delusions, and delerium/hallucinations.

Seriously tragic.
 

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