The impact of aphantasia on mental healthcare experiences

BRIDGET MAWTUS, Fran Renwick, BETHANY THOMAS, Reshanne R Reeder

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Abstract

Approximately 4% of the population has aphantasia, which is defined as impoverished, or absent, sensory mental imagery. Previous research suggests that people with aphantasia (aphants) may have a higher prevalence of mental health conditions and neurodivergence compared to the general population, but aphantasia presents a special challenge for diagnosis and treatment. Many mental health conditions are currently characterized by imagery-related symptomology (such as sensory flashbacks in post-traumatic stress disorder or negative body image in eating disorders), and the dominant therapeutic treatments rely heavily on imagery techniques. Thus far, little is known about how this impacts mental healthcare experiences in individuals with aphantasia. In the current study, we will use a mixed-methods (questionnaire, interview) approach to comprehensively investigate the effects of aphantasia on seeking diagnosis and treatments for mental illness. We will use quantitative analyses on questionnaire data and thematic analysis on interview data to explore three hypotheses: psychiatric disorders will manifest with a lack of imagery-related symptomology in aphantasia compared to typical imagery controls; aphants will report “lack of awareness or understanding of aphantasia” as a common factor in missed-or misdiagnosis by mental health professionals; and aphants will be more likely to report that therapies involving mental imagery are ineffective in their mental health treatment compared to controls. This study will elucidate the immediate issues and experiences of individuals seeking mental healthcare with aphantasia, and lay the foundation for improvements to psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCollabra: Psychology
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 25 Apr 2023

Keywords

  • mental health
  • Mental imagery
  • registered report
  • aphantasia

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