Erotomania is a subtype of delusional disorder, with the main symptom being a person’s fixation on another who they believe is in love with or obsessed with them despite the fact no proof exists to support this belief. Despite its name, erotomania has less to do with sex, and more to do with a desire for idealized, platonic love.
Delusional disorders are characterized by bizarre (implausible) or non-bizarre (mistaken but not impossible) delusions that persist for at least one month.
A person suffering from erotomania has the non-bizarre delusion that another person, often a stranger, is in love with them and that they are destined to be together. Consequently, they will obsessively talk about that person and attempt to make contact by whatever means possible, and even when the other person cannot or will not reciprocate, this is understood as further proof of the necessary “secrecy” of their reciprocal love.
The object of fixation is typically someone of higher status such as a celebrity or someone of great standing, authority, attractiveness, or wealth. Indeed, the person who is the object of these delusions may not have had any interactions with the person suffering from the delusions.
Facts About Erotomania
Also known as De Clérambault’s syndrome, Erotomania was first described by French physician G.G. De Clérambault in 1885, and is its own independent diagnosis, but is also associated with other mental health diagnoses involving delusions and manic behaviors such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Treatment typically involves therapy and medication to address delusional symptoms and any underlying etiology.
Research indicates that people who suffer from erotomania are often isolated, unemployed, and with limited social contacts. Additionally, those diagnosed with erotomania often have strong family psychiatric histories, which raises the possibility of genetic links.
What Are the Symptoms of Erotomania?
Erotomania may be the result of a short-term psychotic break but symptoms may be long-lasting and include:
- Constant and persistent stalking and harassing behaviors (i.e., attempts to contact the other person via phone calls, and sending emails, texts, letters, and gifts)
- Believing that the other person is sending secret messages through gestures and over media as proof of love—even when the other person denies such intentions
- Incessantly consuming media related to the other person (i.e., movies, magazines, photographs, books, etc.) in search of coded messages
DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for Delusional Disorder (Including Erotomania)
- Persistence of non-bizarre delusions for at least one month or more
- Schizophrenia has not been diagnosed and has also been ruled out
- Despite delusions, general functioning and behavior have not been impaired
- Manic or major depressive episodes are brief in comparison to length of delusions
- The delusions cannot be attributed to the physiological effects of a substance, another medical condition, or another mental disorder
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Famous Cases of Erotomania
Erotomania is a rare condition and tends to affect more women than men, though more men wind up in trouble with law enforcement due to stalking and harassing behaviors. Several famous cases of erotomania were those of John Hinkley Jr., Margaret Mary Ray, and Grezgorz Matlok.
- John Hinkley Jr. fixated on actress Jodie Foster after watching her in the film Taxi Driver. He stalked Foster and when he was unable to make meaningful contact with her, attempted to assassinate former President Ronald Reagan to gain her attention.
- Margaret Mary Ray fixated on and stalked talk show host David Letterman. Multiple times, Ray was charged with trespassing onto Letterman’s property, even stealing his car and claiming that she was his wife and her child was his. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and later died by suicide.
- Most recently, Grezgorz Matlok was arrested after breaking into Madonna’s home on several occasions; he believed he was involved in an intimate relationship with the singer and actress as she had been exchanging ‘special messages’ with him.
Treatment for Erotomania
When erotomania is not the result of an underlying mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, the standard treatment is typically mood stabilizers or antipsychotic medications combined with psychotherapy that helps patients understand and manage delusions and ruminative thinking as addictions. When erotomania is the result of an underlying etiology such as bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol dependence, anxiety disorder, eating disorders, or attention deficit disorder (ADHD), additional indicated treatment approaches will be necessary.