Everyone at least once in their lives has done something they would like to forget; falling in front of an audience, being laughed at, or texting something very personal to the wrong person. Most people though, can recall the memory, and can deal with it and move on. There are people who when they go through a stressful situation, don’t remember it ever happening.
People with psychogenic amnesia, also named dissociative amnesia or functional amnesia, which I bet most of you haven’t heard of, don’t remember situations or issues they were involved in. Psychogenic amnesia is a case of memory loss due to psychological causes instead of neurological cause. This is a mental illness that is just as real as anxiety od depression even thought not a huge amount of people have it.
Dissociative amnesia happens when the person blocks out some or all the information about a certain event or situation, usually it’s a stressful or traumatic event, leaving them unable to remember important information which can include gaps in the story. It can also involve breakdowns of consciousness, awareness, identity, or perception. This is very different from anterograde amnesia (trouble making new memories) and retrograde amnesia (trouble remembering old memories) which are caused by physical trauma to the brain instead of psychological trauma.
Functional amnesia is very similar with PTSD in where it based off a traumatic event and some with PTSD can’t remember either, but the main difference is the effects on the body and those with psychogenic amnesia cannot remember regardless of what is done. PTSD symptoms include:
- Severe anxiety
- Uncontrollable thoughts about the event
- Easily startled
- Aggressive behavior
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Among other changes in emotion or thought
Psychogenic amnesia really does not have many symptoms, so it is very difficult to diagnose unless the sufferer brings it up to a psychologist. The symptoms include:
- Inability to remember past experiences
- Inability to remember personal information
- Loss of episodic memories (experiences or episodes in your life)
In order to be diagnosed with functional amnesia you need to go through a long series of tests to rule out neurological illness or other illness also including a memory problem due to medication. Certain conditions can mirror psychogenic amnesia such as diseases, head injuries, drug/alcohol intoxications and sleep deprivation. If a physical illness isn’t found the person will be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist who are specifically trained to treat mental illness. These doctors use assessment tools and designed interviews to evaluate.
Even though recovery for psychogenic amnesia is very small there is still types of treaments that could be done to assist in remembering or coping with this illness. The goal of this treatment is to relieve symptoms and control any problem behavior. The best treatment depends on each individual case, it’s based on the symptoms and the severity of the memory loss.
- Psychotherapy: Techniques designed to encourage those to use their words and communicate about problems and increase mindfulness of the problem.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Focus on changing the dysfunctional thinking patterns that create the feeling and behaviors the person exudes.
- Medication: Treats the depression or anxiety
- Creative Therapy (art, music, pet): Allows the person to explore ways to communicate and express thoughts and feelings in a safe and creative way.
- Clinical Hypnosis: Increase relaxation, concentration, and focused attention to alter the state of consciousness to allow the walls in their head to come down letting the flow of feeling, thought, and memory they have blocked to come back. This can be very damaging and could create false memories.
Goldberg, Joseph. “Mental Health: Dissociative Amnesia.” WebMD, WebMD, 6 Apr. 2019, www.webmd.com/mental-health/dissociative-amnesia.
Harrison, Neil A, et al. “Psychogenic Amnesia: Syndromes, Outcome, and Patterns of Retrograde Amnesia.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 24 Aug. 2017, academic.oup.com/brain/article/140/9/2498/4080831.
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 July 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967.
“Psychogenic Amnesia: Symptoms, Causes, Illness & Condition.” The Human Memory, 27 Sept. 2019, human-memory.net/psychogenic-amnesia/.