In Heard-Depp libel lawsuit, stigma of borderline personality disorder looms large

Last week, a forensic psychologist named Shannon Curry testified in the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard libel trial, saying she believed Amber Heard had borderline personality disorder and mental disorder. histrionic personality. In his testimony, Curry explained the opinion derived from Heard’s direct assessment for 12 hours, in addition to reviewing case documents, medical documents and prior mental health records.

“His scores were consistent with other people who had these scores who have been shown by many, many studies to have these very specific traits,” Curry said.

RELATED: Therapists Intervene in Depp-Heard Lawsuit

The testimony comes as lawyers for both parties attempt to cast either Heard or Depp as the aggressor in their marriage. The civil lawsuit involves Depp, who is suing Heard for $50 million for defamation over an essay she wrote for the Washington Post in 2018. In the essay, Heard said she had become the “public figure representing violence domestic”. Heard wrote, in the essay, that she wanted to “ensure that women who come forward to talk about violence receive more support.” Although Depp was never directly named in the essay, his lawyers argue that it indirectly refers to the allegations she made against him during their divorce.


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Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) are, as their names describe, personality disorders. As Curry explained in his testimony, they are different from mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – considered the “bible” of the classification and diagnosis of mental disorders – borderline personality disorder is “a generalized pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and affects, and marked impulsivity, beginning in early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts”; while histrionic personality disorder is characterized “by individuals who are flamboyant, attention-seeking and over-emotive”.

In the age of the internet, where the mental health of celebrities is endlessly debated in social media forums, accusing someone of having borderline personality disorder is sometimes used as a way to discredit them, whether the diagnosis is true. or not. The reason for this is that people with borderline personality disorder are sometimes predisposed to lying, although they may not believe what they are saying is a lie; and because people with BPD are sometimes so obsessed with their own victimhood that they will say anything if it means perpetuating that narrative. “People with BPD are fully convinced that their biased feelings and beliefs – whether positive or negative – are unquestionably true,” Paul T. Mason and Randi Kreger write in “Walking on Eggshells,” one of the most popular books. most popular and quoted on Relations TPL.

But some people with borderline personality disorder, as well as many mental health experts, are reluctant to “weaponise” it, as Mina Hadi wrote in The Independent last week in an op-ed titled “I have borderline personality disorder – that should ‘not be weaponized against Amber Heard.” “The description of me as borderline paints a specific and misleading picture of me being inherently dangerous,” Hadi writes, adding that she is “not the first to challenge the terminology of personality disorders, potential biases in diagnosis and how it doesn’t take enough account of the social context.

Notably, both personality disorders appear to be more common in women, raising the question of whether they are consequently stigmatized in women.

During her testimony, Curry was asked if women “are labeled with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.” Curry disagreed, stating that it was “more prevalent among women.” According to an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, approximately 70% of women are responsible for diagnoses of borderline personality disorder in clinical settings; HPD is estimated to affect only 1% of the population, but again, it is more often diagnosed in women.

“When it comes to histrionic personality disorder, women make up about 65% of diagnoses,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author of “Joy From Fear,” told Salon via email. “Some believe histrionic personality disorder occurs equally in male and female populations, but diagnostic bias skews prevalence rates.”

Therapists tell Salon that both diagnoses are often stigmatized in women.

“Borderline personality disorder is most diagnosed in women and is undoubtedly stigmatized,” Saba Harouni Lurie, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Take Root Therapy, told Salon via email. “Even though there are currently treatments that have been shown to be effective in treating borderline personality disorder, we still imbue those with these diagnoses with such symptomology that it becomes impossible to see them as whole, functioning individuals. .”

Lurie added that HPD “also carries a significant stigma.”

“If it’s proven that Amber Heard abused Johnny, it’s not because she has borderline personality disorder, it’s because she has abusive tendencies,” Nickerson said. .

“Additionally, research suggests that borderline personality disorder has a strong relationship with negative childhood experiences, and there may also be a relationship between histrionic personality disorder and negative childhood experiences. “, Lurie said. “A diagnosis can miss the mark by not offering a complete picture of a person, including what may have caused and what may be exacerbating their symptoms.”

Kathy Nickerson, a licensed clinical psychologist and nationally recognized relationship expert, agreed that borderline personality disorder is “heavily stigmatized.”

“A lot of people don’t realize that personality disorders also exist on a spectrum, where not everyone experiences the same symptoms in the same way,” Nickerson said, noting that not everyone with a personality disorder personality are not “abusive”. “If it’s proven that Amber Heard abused Johnny, it’s not because she has borderline personality disorder, it’s because she has abusive tendencies,” Nickerson said. .

Therapists also say they are complex disorders that do not necessarily take into account a person’s past trauma or environmental factors. Angela Amias, a couples therapist and co-founder of Alchemy of Love, told Salon that both disorders are “usually rooted in trauma.”

“So these are labels that are put on someone’s behavior, but it doesn’t really speak to the origin of that, in someone’s traumatic reactions to current situations that are based on their past experiences” , said Amias. “I don’t think those are useful labels.”

In his testimony, when asked if trauma could cause either disorder, Curry said “no”.

“We know that there are people with borderline personality disorder who have experienced childhood trauma, there are also people with borderline personality disorder who have had no childhood trauma” , Curry said. “So like most personality disorders, and really like most mental health issues in general, there seems to be both a biological component to it.”

Curry added that the research also suggests there may be a “genetic component” and a “neurological component.”

“And then there may also be an environmental component triggering these genetic markers,” Curry said.

The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard libel lawsuit continues today.

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