Aphantasia and Mental Illness

DiscussionsCategory: ResearchAphantasia and Mental Illness
Cat asked 2 months ago

Since this is brain business, I’ve been wondering if aphantasia and mental illness may possibly have some kind of link? I have bipolar disorder and grew up with severe anxiety, which was treated with mindfullness which did NOT work! I now wonder if that is because I cannot picture the beach I’m supposed to be walking on…

Has anyone else struggled with mindfulness/meditation?

Does anyone else have mental illness too? The brain is so connected and complex, I can’t help but wonder if there could be something there.

3 Answers
Jennifer McDougallJennifer McDougall Staff answered 2 months ago

I actually had to look this one up to see if there was any scientific investigation of this link. It turns out, Adam Zeman (the scientsit who coined the term ‘aphantasia’) responded to a similar inquiry in ‘Reflections on aphantasia.’ It’s a rather lengthy read, but in short there was a publication by de Vito et al called ‘Refusing to Imagine? On the possibility of psychogenic aphantasia.(2015)’; A letter that suggests that aphantasia is a functional neurological disorder potentially related to anxiety and depression. Zeman’s rebuttal to de Vito’s paper, however, claimed that aphantasia is not functional as it seems to be lifelong and does not vary in response to life events. While he agrees that ‘phychological’ factors such as mood can influence imagery and that they should be taken into account, he and his team are doubtful that it plays a major role among people reporting lifelong aphantasia.
I hope this helps clarify a few things for you Cat? Also, many aphantasics report difficulties with meditation in the tradiational sense of ‘imaging’ something and visualization techniques. There’s a discussion about aphantasia and meditation here that might be worth contributing too, in the event it might illuminate some new discoveries/shared experiences. Also, an interesting Twitter thread has been brewing on the topic.

Rachel CicconeRachel C answered 2 months ago

I definitely think my anxiety and depression is less than it normally would be because of my aphantasia. As I’m forced to be in the present, I think it helps ground me more than someone with anxiety and mental images would be. However, because I’m constantly in the moment, the emotions I feel when I’m anxious or upset is incredibly overwhelming. i can almost not think of anything else because I HAVE nothing else to really fall back on. It’s sort of a Catch 22 I suppose.

Rich JamesRich James answered 2 months ago

hello, new member here funnily enough because my therapist mentioned aphantasia – i have been describing this phenomenom for many years both to peers and other therapists, i have struggled with mental health most of my life and i think in reflection aphantasia probably adds to my frustrations more than anything with memory loss (visual memory and cues) which often lead to disorienting situations

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