A 48-year-old woman who claimed God commanded her to hurt herself arrived at a psychiatry emergency hospital in Switzerland with deep cuts and stab wounds to her chest. Doctors initially thought she suffered from a mental illness but a further assessment revealed that was not the case.
Dr. Sebastian Walther from the University Hospital of Psychiatry told reporters that the woman, who is known only as Sarah, actually suffered from a slow-growing brain tumor. Scans showed that the tumor was in a critical part of her brain and disrupted the processing of sound.
Sarah, who had always been spiritual, claimed that she often heard a few distinct voices that talked to her for hours to either give instructions or to commend her when she did something good. Despite the voice telling her to harm herself, she described what she heard as "divine," which ultimately left her "distinctly feeling blessed."
Psychiatrists first said Sarah had psychosis, where a person loses touch with reality, and Walther confirmed that religious delusions commonly happen to people with this type of mental illness.
A team of experts, however, assessed that Sarah did not have the classic symptoms of the mental condition. Following a routine MRI for her psychiatric evaluation, it was then that the doctors saw the brain tumor.
Walther suspects that the tumor started growing during Sarah's transition from child to adolescent, to her young adult years. This also likely led to her auditory hallucinations, which made her "hear God" as a reflection of her strong interest in spirituality. Walther particularly took note that Sarah had four instances or cycles in her life where she felt heightened interest in religion and even joined the Jehovah's Witnesses for two years.
"All the brain areas related to speech processing and auditory processing seem to be very intimately involved in generating the experience of hallucinated voices," neuroscientist Kristiina Kompus from the University of Bergen explained.
Sarah's tumor remains in her brain as the doctors assessed it no longer showed signs of growth. Its delicate position also made it impossible to do surgery or radiation. She manages the auditory hallucinations with medication.
The doctors presented Sarah's unique case in the Frontiers of Psychiatry journal.