Friday, October 10, 2008

"I'm your biggest fan."

From iTWire Australia: Study finds most celebrity stalkers are mentally ill

From Craegmore News: Celebrity stalkers are mentally Ill.

From The Sun: Royal stalkers are mentally Ill.

From the APA Headlines: Celebrity stalkers may have much greater incidence of serious psychotic illness

A study suggests celebrity stalkers are more mentally ill?
Wow! Thanks for the newsflash.
Let’s dig a bit deeper:

Here’s a snippet from the APA:

New Scientist (10/8, Nowak) reports that the results of a study presented at a forensic science meeting in Australia suggests that, "rather than being hapless eccentrics, the majority of stalkers suffer from serious psychotic illnesses." Study leader Paul Mullen, D.Sc., a forensic psychiatrist at Monash University and the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health," said, "We didn't expect such high rates of psychosis. It was very surprising to us." For the study, researchers "scrutinized over 20,000 incidences of stalking members of the [British] royal family, such as repeated and threatening letter writing, and repeated attempted approaches and attacks, from 1988 to 2003. The data was contained in files on 8000 people kept by the Metropolitan Police." After culling the files, researchers "examined in detail the files of 250 of the remaining 5000 people judged to be true stalkers. About 80 percent had a serious psychotic illness, including schizophrenia, delusions, and hallucinations, they found." Notably, this "finding contrasts sharply with people who stalk non-famous people," of which only "a fifth...have some sort of serious or severe psychotic disorder." _________________________________________________________________________________

Interesting. The newsworthy part here is that there is a greater rate of comorbid serious mental illness in this group of celebrity stalkers, than what has shown in other studies of non-celebrity stalkers. As to the science, I do wonder if there was a bias in the definition of stalking during the screening process (weeding 8000 people down to 5000). Also, this is a retrospective study (obviously, imagine recruiting for a double blind study!) and is not given an in-study comparator. Also, is this a trend only specific to the royal family? Is there a greater level of impairment if one is hung up over Prince Charles than Eva Longoria?

That all being said, there does seem to be a logic to the trend given that it would seem more “delusional” to develop a fixation with a person one has never met. It would be interesting to see what percentage of those delusional symptoms is persecutory or grandiose. Persecutory delusions are often seen in paranoid schizophrenia, and may involve famous people. For example one might believe that George Bush is bugging his telephone and wants to send him to Guantanamo. (Um, ok, make that Martin Sheen is bugging his phone..) Likewise, it would be consistent with grandiose delusions (as often seen in bipolar disorder) to develop a sense that a famous person is one’s soul mate (as I know that Norah Jones is for me).

Uma Thurman, David Letterman, Mel Gibson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sheryl Crow, Olivia Newton-John, Sandra Day O’Connor (by the same stalker as Olivia Newton John!), Brittney Spears, Monica Seles, and Michael Douglas, are just a sampling of those in the news who have had celebrity stalkers. The effect can be quite devastating on the individual and their family. Many stalkers have tried to reach celebrities by going to the homes of the celebrity’s parents.

The challenge is in figuring out the severity of the stalkers potential for harm. Is a stalker a potential Mark David Chapman (stalker and eventual murderer of John Lennon)? Or is he a laughable (perhaps) William Lepeska, who swam naked across Biscayne Bay to woo Anna Kournakova, who ended up swimming to the wrong house, and getting an express trip to the psych ward?

The mere presence of “serious mental illness” alone though does not give one a sufficient predictor of dangerousness. Most studies have shown consistently that persons with serious mental illness (usually defined as chronic schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, chronic psychotic depression, or schizoaffective disorder) are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.

The movies also portray the dualism of the stalker character. In “The King of Comedy” Sandra Bernhard plays a hapless comedic (albeit darkly so) stalker to Jerry Lewis’ talk show character. Ironically, Jerry Lewis had a stalker once jailed after the stalker showed up at his house with a gun. Wesley Snipes in “The Fan” is an all business stalker--angry, delusional, and on a mission. Kind of the middle ground of the stalker continuum. “Cape Fear” (Mitchum-1962 and DeNiro-1991) has a perfect sociopathic stalker. (Notice three DeNiro movies so far?) BTW, Kathy Bates in Misery is still my favorite, and scariest, on-screen stalker.

For a good book on stalking, and how one (especially young ladies) should respond to stalking, I’d suggest Gavin De Becker’s “The Gift of Fear.”

Stalking stories? Do share. Also, anyone have Norah Jones' phone number? :)


Esther said...

I've never stalked a celebrity, so no stories on that one. I was stalked for a couple years when I was younger. That was scary especially since I had no support network (I have a weird family and they have weird friends). In the end I was just lucky my stalker was a little flaky. For whatever reason he had an uncanny habit of just missing me when he tried to find me -- most of the time. The really sad thing is enough happened that I could have taken legal action against him and I didn't. Since nobody helped me and I didn't have anyone to bring my concerns to I ended up enduring some abuse. I plan not to neglect or ignore my children the way my parents did me (when I have children). I have cut off contact with most of the people I knew when I was a teenager/before college because my former stalker did know all of them. I also have anxiety issues, am in therapy, and on an antidepressant. Not sure what the point of this story is. Perhaps it's just nice to realize that I have recovered enough that I can write something like this without feeling traumatized. Make no mistake, stalking is extremely damaging.

Thanks for the thoughts on this subject and I might read that book you mentioned.

Doc said...

Yes, stalking is very dangerous and harmful. What makes up the general psyche of those who stalk is not consistent, nor well understood. Sadly, our legal system (and to some extent our mental health system) does not sufficiently identify or set limitations on a large percentage of stalkers.

This is in no means scientific, but I would bet that most women, and a good percentage of men, have had someone pursue them in a manner that would be considered stalking behavior.

It is great that you are able to no longer experience the trauma when discussing your experience. Credit goes to your work on that!

Thanks for commenting, do feel free to drop by again.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I have one, involving my wife, but it's still kind of fresh, and scary, and I can tell you that living with this kind of insanity - however one defines it - is mentally and physically taxing in the extreme. That the stalker in this case was a woman made it that much harder on my wife.

Wasn't an actress murdered by a stalker about fifteen or so years ago? I seem to remember hearing about it, but I can't remember who she was, or the circumstances.

Doc said...

I imagine that with any job in which one works with the public, especially in a position of providing care or counsel, there is a greater risk of such things happening. Often times the person in that type of position ends up questioning or even blaming themselves and their actions.

Yes, the threat to life is so frightening to anyone being stalked, and as I said before, there is no well defined understanding as to which persons are potentially violent. I know of a counselor who was killed by a stalking patient, and have heard some harrowing stories from my colleagues.

There were certainly a few noted episodes of celebrities being murdered by stalkers. John Lennon, as mentioned, was probably the most famous. The singer Selena was killed by the president of her fan club; a movie was made of her life starring Jenifer Lopez. Rebecca Schaeffer (I had to look up her name, she was in the TV show "My Sister Sam") was an actress in the 1980's who was murdered by a stalker back in 1989.

Anonymous said...

I was stalked by the man who owned the stable where I kept my horse the summer before college. He called my house repeatedly, at least 100 times a day, for at least two months which, for some reason, never fazed my parents. He was a total creep. The calls finally stopped when I left home.

But I still can't bear to hear the house phone ring -- it makes me cringe every time, and I don't answer it, EVER. The people who need to get in touch with me have my cell number.

Have you ever had a patient drive by your house or park out front? I know the street address of both my psychiatrist and old therapist, but wouldn't invade their privacy on a bet. Just think how much that could freak out their wives and kids.

I did meet a girl online who used to do bizarre things to get her shrink's attention (at his office), like tying balloons to his car, putting shaving cream on the door handles, and so on. She was terminated, I believe. No idea what's become of her in the last few years.

Erudite Redneck said...

Having been a semi-public peep most of my career, I've had a couple of instances where harmless but annoying nutjobs learned enough about my life habits to reularly "pop up" in places I went. Spooky. The most pathetic thing is that they considered having a weekly newspaper column as "celebrity." Which, I guess, it is, of a sort, but still.

Anonymous said...

"The most pathetic thing is that they considered having a weekly newspaper column as "celebrity." Which, I guess, it is, of a sort, but still."

Well, having a weekly newspaper column is pretty cool. :)

But I wonder if it made some people feel as if they knew you as a person because of reading your opinions (as one might get to know someone through conversation, only in a totally one-sided way)? I don't know if that makes sense, but maybe the column gave some people a false sense of familiarity with you. Curious what Doc has to say.

Doc said...

Anon 1:
The story of that stalking is frightening; the parents inability to act on it is even more so.
Yes, we all in the biz do have our war stories of overzealous patients. I have been fortunate to date to have no serious breeches of limit setting. Hopefully, this is due in part to having a fairly open line of communication and good boundary setting with patients. However, it would be foolish to assume that any professional is protected by adherence to these standards.

I imagine that in your case stalking is more likely, especially if you offer something to which a person emotionally relates. In many of the cases of professionals being stalked I have seen, the stalker views the target as a parent, a lover, or as a savior/holder of great truth (or some combination of the above).

Anon 2 (even if you are the same as anon 1!):
I imagine ER does think it cool, although his postings do sometimes denote occasional frustration! :) I'll let him speak to that, or point you towards his blog, as proudly given on my blog roll.

Which makes me think as to your point of familiarity:
1. Yes, I imagine that the familiarity does play a role--see above comments.
2. I think the topics covered probably play a role. I wonder if Dear Abby had stalkers? I'll bet she and Ann Landers both did. The Motley Fool? Perhaps not as likely.
3. I wonder if there is going to be a serious uptick in stalking behaviors via the blogosphere. I have seen some things that certainly may cross into that territory. How much of persistent verbal attacks may really be in the realm of stalking behavior? Dr. Wes (over at had such a similar thing occur recently.

Thanks guys for the posts, don't be strangers!

Anonymous said...

Hey! This is Anon 1, 2 and 3 speaking. You're not supposed to out your later anon as being the same person as your previous anon.

But why I'm really posting is: How did you know that? Can you see my IP address or something?

Doc said...

Hmmmm. Well, I should have said "in case". I said "even if." I was trying to be polite in case your post were from one author. I barely know what an IP address is, forget trying to find one! LOL

marcia said...

Oh, what a relief! I had some very paranoid and embarrassing moments thinking back on all the anonymous comments I've sprinkled across the blogosphere. Some of them were a bit obnoxious (anonymity can be a great disinhibitor).

For a while there, I thought I could be identified despite the "anonymous" moniker.

Anyway, I'll just keep it simple and use my name from now on. :)

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

BTW, if you're still paying attention to this post, do you remember that Sarah McLaughlin song "Obsession" from the mid-1990's? It was nothing more than bits from fan letters she received. It was disturbing precisely because it offered a glimpse in to the mind of someone for whom the distance between individuals is obliterated.

When we were going through our experience - and I will tell you there were many harrowing nights - I thought that there was a kind of clinical narcissism involved. It wasn't just a fixation, but a kind of identification - the obsessed and the object became united in some way or other in the obsessed person's mind - that was occurring.

I should point out that our local law enforcement was of little help, and my wife's refusal to pursue legal recourse due to her position was a source of stress as well. I could not get through to her that legal action was necessary, when we would have forty-fifty messages in a night, when our home was invaded more than once, when our children became involved (especially then).

The more I think about that whole episode in our life, the less I wish to, to be honest.

Doc said...

First, man, that sounds simply awful, and is a chapter I am sure you hope to never revisit. You all have my sympathy. I think one of my biggest fears regarding stalking would be the involvement of my family.

There are many with psyches that are so damaged that there is an inability to truly differentiate self from non-self. This can be so severe as to appear quite psychotic. I think it is often that inability to differentiate that leads to a high percentage of erotic transference and stalking episodes, and probably a number of the murder/suicides that occur as well.

Those who stalk famous personalities probably do have higher levels of "true" (secondary to a classical mental illness) delusional symptoms of a paranoid or grandiose nature. I know that the secret service is kept busy chasing down the occasional individual that believes, for example, that he or she is supposed to be working with the President on a top secret mission, and starts sending coded messages, or that the President is responsible for the microwave transmissions being sent into their thoughts via the telephone, and "really needs to have a talk with" the Pres.

Unfortunately, the average person doesn't have access to the Secret Service, and your observation of the challenges of obtaining help in these types of situations is all too frequent. I certainly have counseled persons who have been victimized, and it's important to first understand it as exactly that: being victimized. After that, being very concrete and limit setting, avoiding contact, and obtaining assistance (legal, etc.) are some of the core actions one should take.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

After we moved in '04, this person came to visit a couple times, even attended a church service, called the church office, and other activity. Since we were no longer in our old community, Lisa contacted the County Sheriff's office, and a Deputy from Boone and a Deputy from Bureau County (the county of origin) made a house call and said in no uncertain terms that ANY contact whatsoever would result in arrest for harassment. While she did not get a restraining order, she had enough documented evidence to convince our local peace officers there was a problem.

There has been an occasional rumbling - a phone call to the church office, one email - but most is quiet on that front. Thanks for the clinical description; I'm schooled enough in the lingo to understand, even if not really grasp it all in its entirety.

Yeah, it was pretty awful, and in retrospect, it was even more frightening that I think either one of us treated it at the time. The worst, though was coming home from work at 11:30 at night and finding out that this person had entered our home without permission and refused to leave. I wanted her ass in jail at that point, but Lisa wouldn't hear of it. That and the endless calling and messaging at night (especially while drunk); coming around at night and peering in our windows and in our sliding glass door. I felt violated, and yet couldn't get Lisa to act.

sealy air bed said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.