The psychotic condition where people think they’re a Bible character

A pilgrimage is one of the most spiritually significant things a worshipper can do, but for some people it can become more than that — they can begin to believe they have a role to play in the biblical saga.

Guides around Jerusalem's Western Wall are said to be on the look out for tourists acting strangely, who are agitated or dropping behind the group.

These shifty characters wouldn't be the first people to develop a curious health condition called Jerusalem syndrome.

People with the disorder become convinced that they're a prophet on a divine mission.

Jerusalem syndrome is a dramatic psychotic state that sees tourists develop obsessive thoughts during their trip to the Holy Land.

Thought to affect some 100 people a year it can happen to worshippers of any religion, but is most widely known for existing among Christians and Jews most commonly from North America and Western Europe.

Around 40 people a year need to be admitted to hospital.

The British Journal of Psychiatry say that between 1980 and 1993 around 1,200 people with the condition were found, with 470 of those cases being admitted to hospital.

What is Jerusalem syndrome?

Jerusalem syndrome is when someone develops an intense belief they are a biblical character – they are utterly convinced they are delivering a divine message.

Men often believe themselves to be Jesus while women think they are the Virgin Mary, although people have adopted many biblical characters from both the new and old testaments.

People have also identified as other biblical characters including the muscled Samson whose strength lay in his hair.

When – in an unconventional style of treatment for the mentally ill – the patient was told he wasn't Samson he smashed through a window and escaped.

Only later when he was found by a nurse who convinced him his task had been completed did he walk himself back to his doctors. It was found after the patient was also a paranoid schizophrenic.

In a 2000 paper led by top expert on the disease, Yair Bar-El, it was noted that most people -around 80% – who suffered from the disease already had an underlying psychiatric condition like schizophrenia.

The condition is thought to be a kind of psychosis and is believed to be extremely challenging for the individual suffering from it.

The condition can take different forms, with research suggesting there are multiple subtle 'types' of it which impact a range of things, including the reason for travelling to Jerusalem in the first place and who they are travelling with.

How do you treat Jerusalem syndrome?

Generally the condition is treatable, with people most responsive to putting physical distance between them and Jerusalem.

Yair Bar-El and his co-authors said: "Experience has taught us that improvement is facilitated by, or dependent on, physically distancing the patient from Jerusalem and its holy places. On the whole, major medical intervention is not indicated."

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The paper also says: "Upon recovery, patients can usually recall every detail of their aberrant behaviour. They are inevitably ashamed of most of their actions, and feel that they have behaved foolishly or childishly."

The frequent number of people with Jerusalem syndrome has led to a specialist clinic opening up in Jerusalem called the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre.

It aims to provide phycological counselling and intervention and helps get severe suffers of the disease to hospital.

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