'Is Oscar Pistorius Crazy', And 4 More Incredibly Insensitive Headlines About The Blade Runner
On Monday, Dr. Merryl Vorster testified in a South African courtroom that Oscar Pistorius suffers from an anxiety disorder. The psychiatrist explained that the Blade Runner's disorder is grounded in a series of traumatic incidents, from the amputation of the Blade Runner's legs to the early death of his mother. The diagnosis is a serious one, as anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting nearly one in five adult Americans.
According to Vorster, the athlete has experienced "escalating levels of anxiety" that led to his erratic and tragically violent behavior. The defense sought to use Vorster's diagnosis as proof that Pistorius reasonably believed that there was an intruder in his house, and acted reasonably in response.
As a forensic psychiatrist, Vorster is one of the few witnesses to offer insights into the Blade Runner's mindset and his background. She spoke extensively about the athlete's childhood, including the amputation of his legs, which she believes the then-11-month-old Pistorius could have perceived as a "traumatic assault," and also spoke of the paranoid nature of his mother, who Vorster described as a "very anxious person" who slept with a gun under her pillow.
Mental disorders and psychiatric illnesses are not matters to be taken lightly, nor exploited. Regardless of what transpired on February 14, 2013, there needs to be some level of sensitivity and consideration given not only to Pistorius, but to the other millions of individuals who suffer from anxiety. We get it, headlines sell stories. But... s
In one of the worst headlines out there, CNN decides that calling Pistorius "crazy" is appropriate and a good idea. For the record, the 40 million Americans (and many more worldwide) are not "crazy," but rather have mental, physical, or drug-induced conditions that can be seriously incapacitating. Calling them "crazy" is not only medically incorrect, but also inane and incredibly insensitive.
2. New York Daily News
The problems with this particular headline abound. Not only is the "danger to society" bit taken entirely out of context, but it worse yet, it also seems to suggest that having a psychiatric illness is the equivalent of being a societal menace. The article's first few lines are even worse, as it begins:
Oscar Pistorius + loaded gun = danger to society.
That was the awful arithmetic for the South African sprinter’s defense Monday after their case was badly undermined by the shrink they put on the stand.
For the record, the arithmetic was nowhere near that simple. During prosecutor Gerrie Nel's cross-examination of Dr. Vorster, he asked the psychiatrist, “You said for someone who has that disorder would be a dangerous person? That if he had a gun he would be a danger to society?" To this line of questioning, Vorster simply said, "Yes."
But having a mental disorder has nothing to do with being a danger to society.
3. National Enquirer
Well, this is just great. Not only does the National Enquirer decide to conflate paranoia with anxiety, but they also make the Blade Runner's double amputation seem like a double handicap — both physical and mental. What the headline fails to mention is that Pistorius' "trauma" is a result of much more than his amputation — his anxiety, according to Vorster, is compounded by the loss of his mother, his estrangement from his father, and his increased media presence following the 2012 Olympics.
Dr. Vorster also never testified that Pistorius was paranoid, and said only that he suffered from generalized anxiety disorder, which is characterized by "exaggerated worry and tension" even if there is nothing objectively dangerous at hand.
4. ABC News
Again, not the whole story, and also, focusing on the wrong part of the story. The undue emphasis on Pistorius' physical handicap is really getting old, especially since Vorster cited many other factors that contributed to the Blade Runner's disorder. The suggestion that an amputation could unilaterally result in a mental disorder is seriously problematic, particularly because so many have overcome these obstacles (including Pistorius himself, we should add).
An amputation did not "give" Pistorius a mental disorder, and Pistorius' handicap should not be used as either an excuse or a cause for Steenkamp's death.