Mind & Body

People with the Truman Show Delusion Believe Their Lives Are Being Broadcast on TV

"The Truman Show" came out in 1998, and proved two things: first, that Jim Carrey could be funny without talking from his butt, and second, that people were fascinated with the idea of a show depicting somebody's "real" life. But it kicked off another phenomenon besides the stampede of reality TV that's been going on ever since. It inspired an entirely new psychological disorder.

Don't Change That Channel

The Truman Show delusion was first described by psychiatrists and brothers Joel and Ian Gold in 2006. Since then, they've researched more than 100 relevant cases, and say that the delusion is proof of culture's influence on our minds. The delusion's name is based on the fact that three out of five of Joel Gold's initial patients referenced The Truman Show when describing their experiences.

Somebody who is suffering from the Truman Show delusion might be unable to shake the feeling that there is a "director" out there, guiding the events of their lives and staying just out of sight. In the Golds' original study, they cited five different individuals they had diagnosed with the delusion. What's surprising is how diverse they were in background and lifestyle. One was a drug abuser who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, while another was a working journalist who thought his colleagues were fabricating their stories for his own amusement. Amazingly, one was actually employed by a reality show and believed that he was secretly the star of a different program.

As far as delusions go, this one is both incredibly strange and oddly believable. When you start looking into it, you start finding firsthand accounts of people with the Truman Show delusion who cite the fact that, well, they really are under video surveillance on a daily basis. So is pretty much everyone else, as a matter of fact, whether by security camera or smartphone. The crucial difference, of course, is that their recorded antics aren't really getting broadcast to millions. But what if you had the Truman Show delusion and you really had been on TV? Meet Kevin Hall.

Camera Obscura

Like many people with the Truman Show delusion, Kevin Hall had been diagnosed with another psychiatric disorder — in his case, bipolar disorder. But unlike most others, he was also a world-class sailor who had competed in the Olympics. That is, until a harrowing experience turned him from his chosen sport for good. While competing in the 34th annual America's Cup with fellow Olympian Andrew "Bart" Simpson, their state-of-the-art catamaran Artemis suddenly collapsed. Simpson, a legend in the sailing community, drowned in the accident. And as Hall watched, he wondered if it was all a stunt for the cameras. The thing is, those cameras were really there.

It's easy to see how this tragedy could leave a person shaken, even if they weren't already dealing with a psychological issue. But for Kevin, it became an important step on his journey toward mental health. Leading up to the funeral, Kevin struggled with a severe depressive episode, and a manic episode followed shortly after. When he consulted with doctors, he learned that he wasn't the only person to have felt his life was for public consumption. Eventually, he was able to connect with the Gold brothers. Today, he works with his own doctors but also with Joel Gold, who has taken a personal interest in his experiences. Now, with the support of his friends, family, and medical professionals, Kevin has come to a better understanding of himself and his mental health.

To learn more about dealing with the Truman Show delusion while living in front of the camera, pick up Kevin Hall's "Black Sails White Rabbits" (free with a trial membership to Audible). We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

The Truman Show Delusion

Key Facts In This Video

  1. People with the Truman Show delusion believe that they are the star of a movie or television show, and that everyone they know is an actor. 01:09

  2. Delusions aren't mental illnesses in their own right—they're typically symptoms of a larger condition. 01:52

  3. One theory postulates that delusions arise when the brain's suspicion system wins out over its reflective system. 03:35

Written by Reuben Westmaas March 16, 2018

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