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mental health mondays :: the best defence?

another week, another person's claiming the crazy. this time, it's accused pedophile jerry sandusky, who is attempting to explain behaviour that has crossed the border into straight-up bizarre in relation to his alleged victims. sandusky claims [through his lawyers] that by writing letters to young men and by appearing inappropriately sexual or seductive, he was exhibiting the traits of histrionic personality disorder. now, we need to be clear- he is not claiming that this disorder excuses him from committing sexual assaults. he still denies these took place. the claim is that actions that might appear suggestive but fall short of molestation need to be seen in the context of a disordered mind.

so let's look at this a little closer, shall we?

first of all, histrionic personality itself is a little controversial. it's included as part of the axis ii disorders in the "psycho-bible", among the sub-category of "dramatic" personality disorders. it occurs far more often in women than in men, who tend to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder for the same symptoms. disorders that fall along gender lines tend to raise red flags, because they are often tied up with cultural norms about gender. specifically, a symptom of histrionic personality disorder is "dressing provocatively".
if you don't think this is provocative, try it in nebraska
in fact, one of the chief differences between histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders is the emphasis the former puts on sexually inappropriate behaviour. this may be an indicator as to why sandusky would be considered histrionic, but historically it has been women who have been deemed "inappropriate" with their sexuality, whereas men might be hypersexual, but this was only part of their screwed-up personality whole.

when you look at the symptoms of the disorder, you run into an uncomfortable fact: even by the standards of personality types that society has stamped "messed up", the histrionic sound like a particularly irritating lot. cursed with a psyche that lacks a stable centre, they draw their sense of self almost entirely from others. as a result, they have a desperate longing for feedback and approval, meaning they literally need to be the centre of attention all the fucking time. because they are never grounded, histrionic thinkers have little sense of moderation [or judgment, or proportion] when it comes to others. they don't know someone, they're always superbestfriendsforever with them, even after knowing them for a couple of weeks. on facebook. they don't have bad days, they have miniature apocalypses three times a week followed by a stretch of the most sublime happiness you could ever imagine because their life is so wonderful. then someone bumps into them and spills their drink and the world is dark and hateful and that person so totally meant it personally. they're also likely to be that charming type at the office who blurts out all these amazing ideas and seems to be conveniently absent with one of their sixteen life-threatening maladies that mean we should cut them some [a lot] of slack when there's actual hard, detail-oriented work to be done.

i feel for the histrionically disordered. not as dramatically as they feel for themselves, but the fact is that while the specific traits may read like a list of things that beg the question "how old are you again?", this isn't a state of mind that anyone would choose. imagine feeling like every time people around you started talking about something that wasn't directly related to you that your entire existence started to fade away just a little.

this is a really hard sell in the sympathy olympics, because the disorder itself sounds like something these people would make up in order to get attention.

aside from what we already know about, i'll be curious to see what sandusky's defence team has marshalled as evidence for their claim. after all, personality disorders can be fiendishly difficult to diagnose and require [unless your psychiatrist is a total quack who probably has some sort of disorder him/ herself] a long-standing and pervasive pattern of symptoms. in other words, it's not just a label you can trot out to explain away stuff that makes you look bad. believe me, i have a dozen or two disorders in the approval queue for that.

but the other part of the argument is that it might not matter at all. the behaviour that sandusky's team is attempting to explain away with a personality disorder is certainly supporting evidence, but it's hardly the core of the prosecution's case. the trial has already heard testimony from an admittedly embattled witness that he saw sandusky raping a boy in the shower. the victims themselves are testifying as to their experiences. and none of this evidence is affected in the least by whether or not jerry sandusky has a personality disorder. that's the thing about crimes. you don't get a pass just because you have a mental disorder. and in a case like this, it's unlikely to even be much of a mitigating factor.


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