07/27/2010 04:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lindsay Lohan: Easy to Be Hard

Joan Rivers is right about Lindsay Lohan. Sadly, her comment that Ms. Lohan will not survive another ten years of her current lifestyle appears reasonable and prescient.

But equally troubling is the punitive call to lock her up and punish her. This is outrageous envy and hateful herd mentality toward someone who "should" be grateful for what the public has given her, but is not following that script. Lindsay Lohan is mentally unwell. I know the term "mental illness" sounds as harsh as Joan Rivers does to the average ear. However, while Joan is a comedian who cares, as a therapist, I am not interested in using terms like "mental illness" glibly or to trash talk for shock value.

People seem to exclusively be hooked on the substance abuse angle of Lohan's story. Substance abuse is one symptom of a psychological disease; only a piece of the picture.
I am not defending drunk driving or waving away any of Ms. Lohan's notorious angry public acts by saying that she is mentally disturbed. There is such a condition, even if we don't speak of it. In Ms. Lohan's case it is public and an obvious problem. To discuss a problem, it helps to first identify what it is and understand it. And then, of course, to care.

For those who think it's an apologetic stretch to diagnose her as mentally ill, here's the thing. The "bible" of psychological disorders, known as the DSM or the Psychological Diagnostic Manual, lists mental diseases and identifies "clinical disorders," such as "anxiety, adjustment, dissociative, impulse control, mood, and substance related," all abundantly present in Ms. Lohan's public "performances."

The truth is that Lohan is acting out a terrible rage, to the possible point of flirting with suicide. What is she trying to say? (No, it's not a simple nail-painted "F*ck You", Nancy Grace).
Not pretty to watch, but unless we personally know her, we do not know her, and media analysis is nothing more than bloated conjecture, common gossip, a showcase of vicious righteousness and expert arrogance. Why? Why the rage against her? I'll say it again. She is not mentally well. Is that not obvious?

I deeply wish Ms. Lohan the chance for health and recovery that can only come from becoming conscious, and having real desire for the brave journey, an intensive healing process involving authentic support with wise counselors and guides.

When a person is mentally unwell, answering to extreme and illegal behaviors is commonly delivered with a "f*ck you" attitude of defense, denial, and staunch victimization. It is not at all surprising that Lohan feels persecuted and sees herself as a stoned Iranian woman -- even though she is "stoned" in a very different way and voluntarily. I can imagine how she internally distorts the ironically crazed masses in their responses to her, where it may feel as if she were being metaphorically stoned by people hurling hateful, angry words.

What is well worth noting is that these symptoms of mental illness are rampant today. The rudeness, the denial, the dissociation from one another -- and one's own behavior -- in public life is commonly on display. It is fascinating that the very reactions to Lindsay Lohan mirror her own rage and carelessness. In other words, the common public response is to hate, hate, hate her, and that is just as troubling as her own behaviors.

This makes me think about the notion that a community was once a place where people looked after one another. This is a gone idea. Today we have Nancy Grace presiding over Weekend Edition Lindsay Lohan Specials, hours where Grace can shriek uncontained rage about Lohan's "bratty entitlement." How did Grace herself become so punishing and hateful, I wonder.

Such shows are distracting garbage for a turned-off audience, and a ratings winner, I'm sure, but what's up with the heartlessness and the absence of intelligent commentary about mental illness?

It is an ironic parallel between Lohan's "acting out" and how it is met with equally extreme "acting out" responses to it such as those of Nancy Grace and her audience. When did all this extreme rage become normalized? Lohan is a mirror of societal acting out in the extreme. It would help to identify the parallel extremities of our own behaviors! (Perhaps we can start with people screaming on talk shows, sociopathic rageful driving, and the popular demand for punishment for Lohan).

Most disheartening to me is the absence of simple kindness about any person -- even the wealthy and famous among us -- who suffers such destructive torment and mental dis-ease. I'm sure this will not be agreed upon by all, but Joan Rivers expresses an almost solitary voice of compassion about Lindsay Lohan, with a depth of compassion way beyond Rivers's own comic barbs.

It turns out that in this so-called country of "compassion," the real thing is scarce.

Again, this is not a case only of substance abuse. Let's refrain from falling exclusively into the stupidity of exclusive "substance" explanations and corresponding simplistic psycho-babble solutions.

Symptoms keep us mesmerized in a blame game, to which ignorant judgements and band-aid solutions are slapped on top of deeper truths. Rather than spending our energy on one or even a constellation of symptoms, it is essential to identify actual mental illness when it exists.

Of course, calling out this truth is inconveniently honest and not as snappy as making everything an addiction and producing reality shows featuring visually glamorous, openly cheesy, addiction spas.

The open wound of American society oozes with unconscious envy, hero worship and a sense of public ownership of the famous. The normalization of cruelty and brash cold-heartedness is the brand of our time. Our current obsession with Lindsay Lohan and accompanying lack of generosity is one clear warning that American society, itself, is in desperate need of help.