A mentally ill young man who shot himself in the head in a suicide attempt suffered a brain injury that apparently eliminated his phobia of germs and his obsession with washing his hands, doctors say.
The .22-caliber slug destroyed the section of the brain responsible for his disabling obsessive-compulsive behavior without causing any other brain damage, his doctor said in a report in Physician’s Weekly, a British journal of psychiatry. Victims of the disorder typically have an inexplicable compulsion to repeat activities over and over.
The afflicted man, now a straight-A college student, tried to kill himself five years ago, when he was 19 years old, said Dr. Leslie Solyom, a psychiatrist at Shaughnessy Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia. Effects of His Behavior
The man, identified only as George, washed his hands hundreds of times a day and took frequent showers, Dr. Solyom said. The behavior had forced him to drop out of school and quit his job.
Dr. Solyom treated him for more than a year before he tried suicide.
”George was also very depressed and told his mother that his life was so wretched that he would rather die,” Dr. Solyom related. ”She said, ‘So look George, if your life is so wretched, just go and shoot yourself.’ So George went to the basement, stuck a .22-caliber rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.”
The bullet lodged in the left front lobe of the brain. Surgeons removed it but could not get out all the fragments.
”When he was transferred to our hospital three weeks later, he had hardly any compulsions left,” Dr. Solyom said.
George had also retained the same I.Q. he had before becoming ill, Dr. Solyum said, and he returned to school, got a new job and is now in his second year of college. #3% in U.S. May Be Compulsive The story was also reported in today’s issue of The Los Angeles Times.
New research indicates that as much as 3 percent of the United States population displays some obsessive-compulsive behavior, said Dr. Michael Jenike, a psychiatrist at Harvard University.
Conventional psychotherapy is useless in such victims, Dr. Jenike said. The disorder is most effectively treated with a combination of antidepressant drugs and behavioral therapy.
As a last resort, neurosurgeons will occasionally remove part of the left front lobe of the brain, where the obsessive behavior is thought to originate. The operation is probably performed between 10 and 30 times a year in the United States, with mixed results, said Dr. Thomas Ballantine of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.