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10 Surprising Ways to Lose Your Mind


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Solitary Confinement
Harry Wu sits in an exhibit showing the exact dimensions of his solitary confinement cell where he spent 11 days at a labor prison camp. The exhibit was on display at the Laogai Museum on June 20, 2011, in Washington, D.C. Wu founded the U.S. museum, which is dedicated to exhibits about the forced labor prison camps and human rights abuses in China. Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Harry Wu sits in an exhibit showing the exact dimensions of his solitary confinement cell where he spent 11 days at a labor prison camp. The exhibit was on display at the Laogai Museum on June 20, 2011, in Washington, D.C. Wu founded the U.S. museum, which is dedicated to exhibits about the forced labor prison camps and human rights abuses in China. Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Unless you're Paul Newman in the prison movie "Cool Hand Luke," or Tim Robbins in "The Shawshank Redemption," spending considerable time in "the box" or in "the hole" is a one-way ticket to losing your mind. It's called solitary confinement and there are two types. The first is disciplinary segregation, in which inmates spend a week or two away from the general prison population generally for breaking the rules. The second type is administrative segregation. That's where inmates spend months or years locked in their cells 23 to 24 hours a day. Administrative segregation is mostly reserved for the most brutal of prisoners, including gang members.

Psychologists say when prisoners are segregated from one another for long periods they begin to develop anxiety and panic disorders. They also may become paranoid, aggressive, depressed and unable to sleep. Many states no longer place mentally ill people in administrative segregation. Of course, some prisoners are more resilient than others, which can make it difficult for officials to know which inmates suffer from mental illness. Still, the mentally ill are more likely (35 percent) to be locked down in solitary compared to the general population (25 percent) [source: Weir].


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