Can Lyme Disease Increase Risk of Suicidal or Homicidal Impulses?


Robert Bransfield, MD, DLFAPA, shares different symptoms caused by Lyme disease, which could, in turn, result in psychiatric conditions that increase the risk of self-harm or harming others in some patients.

Robert Bransfield, MD, DLFAPA, private practice, Psychiatry, in Red Bank, New Jersey, shares different symptoms caused by Lyme disease. which could, in turn, result in psychiatric conditions that increase the risk of self-harm or harming others in some patients.

Interview Transcript (modified slightly for readability):

"[I’ve looked] at the symptoms associated with Lyme that might increase risk [of self-harm or harming others] and I statistically correlated it. I broke it down into different areas: I looked at patients who were homicidal and suicidal, patients who were just suicidal, patients who had anger issues, and then people who had no anger, [and] no suicidal or aggressive tendencies.

And when I looked at the symptoms that put someone more in the high-risk column, where they would describe homicidal [or] suicidal tendencies, I found in increasing order of significance—having hallucinations, explosive anger, dissociative episodes, paranoia, disinhibition, intrusive symptoms, rapid cycling mood swings, panic attacks, depersonalization, substance abuse, social anxiety, hypervigilance, generalized anxiety, and genital-urinary symptoms, as well as chronic pain and depression.

Now, admittedly, not everyone who has these symptoms becomes suicidal, but these added together seem to push someone more in that direction; and so, it’s good to look for these symptoms. And these invariably were people who did not have these symptoms before they acquired Lyme disease. So, Lyme disease doesn’t just give depression, or just cognitive impairments, or joint pain, it can give a spectrum of psychiatric conditions that, added together, can increase significant risk for someone to be driven towards harm to self or others.

And it’s interesting how some people describe it, that some people say that they just feel demoralized and overwhelmed by symptoms. Other people, they get these sudden episodes of rage that seem to come from nowhere, and they just get an explosive rage, and some patients have described it as though ‘I have an urge to kill every living thing, including myself. I want to kill everybody I see. I want to kill the dog.’ There’s this death urge that comes that can be very impulsive, and it’s very puzzling to explain, but I’ve heard repeatedly it expressed by more than one person. And I’ve seen where people act on that at times, unfortunately.

It’s usually not well thought out; it comes explosively. And then you can see an explosive episode of rage, and usually, the person may grab whatever’s there. Occasionally, I’ve seen legal cases where I evaluate someone in a prison setting and they have a history where they’ve lost it and exploded and killed someone or more than one person, which had tragic consequence.

We can look back and think, well, maybe if that infection were treated better and they did not progress to this degree of impairment, that maybe we could have prevented that. Now the thought of treating homicidal or suicidal risk by an infectious disease approach, by treating them with antibiotics, is really quite different; it’s hard for some people to wrap their minds around that idea, but I think it makes sense.

Suicide is a major cause of death and frustration to the family survivors; a lot of the times these puzzling cases come from nowhere. Why did that person suddenly commit suicide? So, this helps explain a certain percent of suicides that previously were unexplained.”

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