Academic journal article Current Psychiatry

'I've Been Abducted by Aliens

Academic journal article Current Psychiatry

'I've Been Abducted by Aliens

Article excerpt

Ms. S is afraid to sleep at night because that's when the aliens come. Is she psychotic, or do her nocturnal experiences have another cause?

CASE 'I'm not crazy'

Ms.S, age 55, presents for treatment because she is feeling depressed and anxious. Her symptoms include decreased concentration, intermittent irritability, hoarding, and difficulty starting and completing tasks. She also has chronis sleep difficulties that often keep her awake until dawn.

Fatigue, lack of focus, and poor comprehension and motivation have left her unemployed. She and her teenage daughter live with Ms. S's elderly mother. Ms. S feels tremendous guilt because she cannot be the mother and daughter she wants to be.

Initially, I (PK) diagnose Ms. S with major depressive disorder and prescribe sertraline, 100 mg/d, which improves her mood and energy. However, her inability to stay organized results in her being "let go" from job training.

Ms. S reports similar difficulties in school as a child. I determine that she meets DSM-IV-TR criteria for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adding methylphenidate, 10 mg bid, improves her concentration and ability to complete tasks. It also reduces the impulsivity that has disrupted her relationships.

Despite a strong desire to normalize her sleep schedule, Ms. S continues to have difficulty falling asleep, so I add melatonin, 3 to 6 mg at bedtime. Her sleeping pattern is imporved, but still variable. She also tries quetiapine, 25 mg at bedtime, but soon discontinues it due to intolerance.

As out rapport strengthens, Ms. S reveals that she has had multiple encounters with aliens beginning at age 3. Although she has not had an "alien experience" for about 5 years, she does not feel safe sleeping at night and instead sleeps during the day. Her efforts to stay awake at night strain her relationship with her mother.

How would you respond to a patient who claims she has been abducted by aliens?

a) explain that there are no such things as aliens

b) insist that she was dreaming

c) issue mental hygiene warrant and sign a certificate for immediate hospitalization

d) explore the experiences in a supportive, respectful manner and rule out organic or substance-induced etiology

The authors' observations

Approximately 1% of the U.S, population report alien abduction experiences (AAE)--an umbrella term that includes alleged contact with aliens ranging from sightings to abductions. (1) Patients rarely report AAE to mental health professionals. In our society, claiming to be an "abductee" implies that one might be insance. A survey of 398 Canadian students that assessed attitudes, beliefs, and experiences regarding alien abductions found that 79% of respondents believed they would have mostly negative consequences--such as being laughed at or socially isolated--if they claimed to have encountered aliens. (1)

Persons who have AAE may attend support groups of fellow "abductees" to accumulate behavior-consonant information (hearing other people's abduction stories) and reduce dissonance by being surrounded by others who share a questionablw belief. (2) A survey of "abductees" found that 88% report at least some positive aspects of the experience, such as a sense of importance or feeling as though they were chosen to bridge communication between extraterrestrials and humans. (3)

Data collected over 17 years from Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) scores of 225 persons who reported AAF reveal common personality traits, including:

* high levels of psychic energy]

* self-sufficiency

* resourcefulness

* a tendency to question authority and to be exposed to situational conflicts. (1)

Other common characteristics include above-average intelligence, assertiveness, a tendency to be reserved and absorbed in thought, and a tendency toward defensiveness, but no overt psychopathology. …

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