The trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has just started over charges of sexual abuse of 10 boys, and his lawyers say that histrionic personality disorder may be a contributing factor to his behavior.
MSNBC reported that his lawyers will be permitted to have a psychiatric expert testify in court about the personality disorder.
The testimony "will explain that the words, tones, requests and statements made in the letters [he sent the boys] are consistent with a person who suffers from a Histrionic Personality Disorder," according to documents reported on by CNN.
However, Robert Buehner, Jr., former Mountour County District Attorney, said that convincing the jury that Sandusky has histrionic personality disorder won't necessarily help his case, MSNBC reported.
"When I heard this news today, Michael, I immediately thought, this is great for the prosecution because the jurors are now going to know a name for something other than 'pedophilia' that Jerry Sandusky did with these boys," Buehner told MSNBC. "It doesn’t mean he’s incompetent, it doesn’t mean he’s insane, it just now has another label."
Indeed, Dr. Carol Bernstein, associate professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, who was not involved in the treatment or trial of Sandusky, told ABC News that even if he is able to gain a diagnosis, it doesn't mean he's insane. In addition, to be diagnosed with the disorder, he would have to meet the full diagnostic requirement of exhibiting at least five traits of histrionic personality disorder.
She told ABC News:
“If someone exhibits sexually inappropriate behavior and that’s all they have out of the several characteristics, that’s not a personality disorder,” said Bernstein. “Any sexual predator exhibits sexually inappropriate behavior.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, histrionic personality disorder is "a condition in which people act in a very emotional and dramatic way that draws attention to themselves." Symptoms include being preoccupied with looks, always needing approval, thinking that a relationship is closer than it is, being very sensitive to criticism, being extremely seductive, rapidly-changing emotions and always needing to be immediately gratified.
Essentially, people with the disorder always need to be noticed and their self-esteem hinges on others, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Right now, an estimated 2 to 3 percent of all people have this condition, CNN reported. While all people certainly have some traits of histrionic personality disorder, CNN reported that people diagnosed with the condition have a combination of symptoms that affects functioning in life.
“People develop this disorder because they have a need to be appreciated and to feel valued and worthwhile and special,” Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist at Emory University School of Medicine who was not involved in Sandusky's treatment, told CNN.
However, Liz Spikol at The Philly Post pointed out that histrionic personality disorder may not even be recognized as an actual mental disorder when the next revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -- also known as the DSM -- comes out. Instead, there is a proposal that there only be five of the current 10 specific personality disorder types.
If the revision is made final, there would only be borderline, antisocial/psychopathic, schizotypal, avoidant and obsessive compulsive disorders listed, Dr. Andrew Skodol, M.D., wrote on the DSM-5 website.
Currently, the proposed revision for histrionic personality disorder for the DSM-5 reads as such:
The Work Group recommends that this disorder be represented and diagnosed by a combination of core impairment in personality functioning and specific pathological personality traits, rather than as a specific type.
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