Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard: 'Domestic abuse is a behavior, not a symptom of a mental illness'

Mental illnesses can be the cause of a lot of things. It can be the reason you randomly start crying in the middle of the day and the reason you have a distorted self-image. It can cause you to be impulsive, have frequent mood swings or feel uncomfortable in crowds. It can be the reason you sleep too much, or sleep too little. It can be why you can't get out of bed in the morning, why you haven't showered in days, or why there are dishes piled up in the sink.

Let me say it again: Mental illnesses can cause a lot of things. And these things are in no way your fault. But if you're a horrible, manipulative and abusive person — well, I'm sorry but your mental illness is not to blame for that. That's all on you. 

"Conflating mental illness with cruelty adds to the stigma of mental illness. ... Repeating hurtful choices is just that – a choice. A nasty pattern of behaviour is not something that should be allowed simply because someone has a mental illness," writes Hattie Gladwell, reporter with the Metro

I'm bringing all this up, of course, because of the most talked about trial of the year — Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard — and the fact that, last week, a psychologist testified that she diagnosed Heard with borderline and histrionic personality disorders. 

Experts say this trial is causing "untold damage" to people with personality disorders. Heard has been accused of some horrific things, such as throwing a vodka bottle at Depp and cutting off the tip of his middle finger, kicking a bathroom door into his head, and defecating in his bed. BPD is already one of the most stigmatized and misunderstood mental illnesses — and all of this certainly doesn't help. People are worried that Heard's diagnosis will perpetuate this stigma and the myth that mental illness causes people to act violently. 

But, as Nancy Erickson, an attorney on domestic violence legal issues, told DomesticShelters.org, "Domestic abuse is a behavior, not a symptom of a mental illness. ... Too many abusers want to claim they have a disorder. They’ll claim they’re depressed, and the depression is making them do that. No disorder makes you (do that)."

To be diagnosed with BPD, you have to exhibit at least five of the following nine symptoms: 

  1. Intense fear of abandonment
  2. ​A pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships
  3. Unstable self-image or sense of self
  4. Impulsive and potentially self-damaging behaviors, such as promiscuous sex, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse or reckless driving
  5. Suicidal or self-harming behavior
  6. Instability and mood swings
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness
  8. Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger
  9. Paranoid idealization, delusions or severe dissociation
As you can see "being violent" is not a symptom. According to the Women’s Centre for Health Matters, "Those who suffer from BPD are genuinely suffering and do not choose to be this way. Unfortunately, many people dismiss those with BPD as manipulative, destructive, and violent. Media portrayals of people with BPD show them as violent because of strong tendencies towards angry outbursts, but this is a minute representation out of the hundreds of BPD trait combinations."

I've seen people across social media say they are now scared to talk about their own BPD because of Heard, and this makes me so sad. Just because she may have BPD, in no way is that a reflection of you. You may both have BPD, but that's where the similarities stop. She also has a history of anxiety – and so do I – but that doesn't mean we are anything alike. These are characteristics of hers, like blonde hair and green eyes, that have nothing to do with the alleged abuse. As Twitter user Pia Blossom wrote, "Having BPD does not make you an abusive person, being abusive makes you an abusive person." 

Please don't be ashamed of your mental health condition. I know that this diagnosis makes your life harder but one thing it doesn't do is make you a bad person. Talking about it, seeking treatment and continuing to live your life, day-by-day, no matter how difficult it may seem — that makes you a brave and resilient person. And that's definitely something to be proud of. 

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