Author Archives: Namrata Susan Verghese

Cotard’s Syndrome: The Disorder That Makes You Think You’re Dead

Cotard’s syndrome (also known as Cotard’s delusion) is an extremely rare condition in which patients believe that they—or parts of their body—are dead.

In 1788, the earliest recorded case of this puzzling disorder, an elderly woman was preparing a meal when she suddenly became paralyzed on one side of her body (a condition we would now probably characterize as a stroke). However, at the time, the woman was convinced that she was dead. She demanded that her daughters treat her as a corpse, and they eventually humored her. They wrapped her in a shroud, and displayed her publicly so that people could “mourn” her. After her “wake,” her family tried to treat her with opium and other eighteenth-century medications, but her delusions never fully went away.

Jules Cotard, who first described the disease and who it is named after. Source: Wikipedia

About a century later, in 1882, French neurologist Jules Cotard finally coined the description of this disorder, which was then named after him. He encountered a patient he dubbed “Mademoiselle X,” who complained that she had “no brain, no nerves, no chest, no stomach and no intestines.” She refused to eat, because she believed she didn’t have innards anyway, and eventually starved to death. Cotard was so puzzled that he published this case widely in journals, and his description of Mademoiselle X’s condition became an influential, foundational text on this bizarre disorder.

Today, hundreds of years after the first report of the condition, we are still baffled by Cotard’s syndrome. We don’t have a clear understanding of its etiology or pathophysiology. We do know, though, that afflicted people can recover, with the right combination of electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) and pharmacological treatment (usually antipsychotics, antidepressants, and mood stabilizing drugs).

In 2008, for example, a 53-year-old patient called Ms. Lee complained that she was dead and smelled like rotting flesh. She asked her family to take her to a morgue so that she could be with other dead people. Her symptoms were severe; however, after a month of a strict drug regimen in conjunction with ECT, she greatly improved, and now functions normally.

So what is Cotard’s syndrome? What causes it? Why does it afflict the people it afflicts? We don’t have answers yet, but that just means there’s a lot of fascinating work to do in this area. Considering the disorder in the context of our class renders it even more intriguing. For instance, connecting this to our discussions about the importance of mortuary rituals, we can ponder what it would be like to perform these rituals for someone who believes she is dead, but isn’t. If she were your family member or loved one, how would you feel? What new significance or symbolism would the execution of this ritual take on?


Ruminjo, Anne, and Boris Mekinulov. “A Case Report of Cotard’s Syndrome.” Psychiatry (Edgmont). Matrix Medical Communications, June 2008. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

Berios, G.E., and R. Luque. “Cotard’s Delusion or syndrome?: A Conceptual History. “Cotard’s Delusion or Syndrome?: A Conceptual History.” Comprehensive Psychiatry, May-June 1995. Web. 2 Mar. 2017.


Hindu Perspectives on Death: Karma and Its Implications

Diagram illustration of karma

Hindu beliefs about death, specifically about karma, have always intrigued me. While I’m not religious, I’ve been exposed to Hindu beliefs my entire life, and examining them through a more scholarly lens for this post has proved fascinating. Hindu perspectives on death center on the idea that a person’s spirit (atman) is permanent; it lives beyond a biological death. In stark contrast, the physical body is almost like a temporary inhabitation, something disposable that you leave behind with the rest of your material belongings when you die. One of the Hindu holy books, the Bhagavad Gita, describes it this way: “As a man casts off his worn-out clothes and takes on new ones, so does the embodied soul cast off his worn-out bodies” (Bhagavad Gita 2:22). Notably, however, reincarnation (or samsara) has the end goal of moksha: the final release from rebirth. Your atman is reborn many times, when the soul returns to the physical realm in a new body, but ultimately the cycle will end and you will attain moksha.

One of the most interesting points I came across was the idea of karma, the “law of cause and effect which teaches that all actions have corresponding results.” Essentially, Hinduism dictates that your status in this life hinges on the merit of your previous life (samchita karma), and your actions in this life determine your position in the next life (agami karma). These lives are by no means limited to human forms; you may have had prior lives as plants, animals, or divine beings. “Remember that, the next time you step on and crush a bug; according to the idea of reincarnation, it could be your great uncle or future grandchild,” a BBC article cautions.

Hindu symbol for karma

The concept of karma really piqued my interest, because to me, it seems like a double-edged sword. On one hand, it indubitably motivates people to work harder, striving for a higher station in their next lives. This is similar to ideas like the Protestant work ethic; Protestants are renowned for their dedication to work, because they believe that combining hard work, frugality, and discipline constitutes the key to salvation. This work ethic is largely credited with forming the crux of the capitalist system we all operate within. However, in the case of karma, the other side of the coin is considerably less appealing: the idea that dire circumstances, such as poverty, oppression, discrimination, etc., can be explained away by karma. It may become entirely too easy to dismiss social issues as directly attributable to a person’s performance in their previous life—and, by extension, wholly their fault, rather than the fault of problems inherent to modern societies. I believe this sort of viewpoint has the potential to warp thinking in a manner reminiscent of popular ideologies of previous eras, such as Social Darwinism, which was harnessed to justify atrocities. However, I acknowledge the nuance in Hinduism’s portrayal of karma, and would love to delve further into the topic in the future to form a more thorough, developed opinion.



“BBC – GCSE Bitesize: Hinduism and Death.” BBC News. BBC, 8 Aug. 2012. Web. 03 March. 2017.

“Protestant Ethic.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 Oct. 2006. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

“Social Darwinism.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 12 Nov. 2014. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.