Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Metta Analysis

Being a Clinical Psychologist affiliated with the government of Los Angeles affords me double the exposure to Los Angeles Laker Ron Artest.

Being a Boston Celtics fan, I do not particularly have an interest in my local team. But being a news junkie with ample daily computer time, there are very few areas of popular culture of which I am not obsessively well-versed. I am pretty sure I can name all 12 members of the Lakers and provide details as to the statuses of their marriages. 

With more high-profile players like Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom regularly popping up on TMZ's website, Artest wasn't particularly on my radar screen. Truthfully, I haven't really followed the NBA in earnest since Larry Bird retired, and I keep expecting to see some Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gossip on (sadly, now a subsidiary of Huffingtonpost/AOL). It is hard to know how colorful the pre-internet athletes' daily lives would have been if there had been ESPN reporters leaking private details of their lives.

Ron Artest's personal life was foisted upon me one day as I logged on to my employer's website. Because I need to access this website for most things related to getting paid, it is the one set of passwords that I try to remember, or at least keep up to date on the post-it note on my computer screen. As with most internal work-related websites, the information is not of interest to anyone but the company's legal department, which insists that every disclaimer in the book be listed somewhere on the site, usually in tiny print and on a site so poorly designed that employees will get a migraine attempting to glean any information from it. Which is a problem if one is logging on to the website to determine what the company's official policy is for going home sick with a migraine. 

One day, as I waded through the indent-less columns of information for exempt employees, vacation accrual, and earthquake preparedness, I noticed a blurb in an uncharacteristically eye-catching font. The write-up was accompanied not by the company director's high-school-era headshot, but by a photo of a vaguely familiar-looking face whose smile exposed dental work that would be just a dream for most  mental health professionals. 

The smiling face was of Ron Artest, player for the Lakers, identifying himself as a consumer of mental health services. Not necessarily the taxpayer-funded governmental services provided by the organization on whose website he was appearing. Nonetheless, a well-known professional athlete who appeals to citizens who are not typically fans of mental health services was appealing to citizens who are not typically fans of mental health services. For a government health-providing organization that strives to reach out to families who are skeptical of meddling government officials asking them personal questions, having Artest as a spokesperson was an exciting development.

Until, of course, Artest gave mental health clinicians a peek into why he may be a consumer of mental health services. Shortly after he publicly outed himself as a therapy patient, he announced he was changing his name to Metta World Peace. He showed the media a prototype of his new uniform jersey, with "Worldpeace" emblazoned on the back. The fact that he was changing his name to "World Peace," two distinct words, and his jersey depicted "Worldpeace," one word, is of less concern to the psychologists among us as it is to the former copy editors among us. But I digress.

Our country has a long history of hardworking and honorable people changing their names. Many people entering the United States early last century either had their names inadvertently changed by government officials who had poor handwriting or hearing, or chose to for personal reasons to give their family a new start in a new country. Artest hails from Queens, New York, not far from Ellis Island, so it is possible that his name change is an homage to the ancestors of his fellow Americans who altered their identity as they settled in neighborhoods in and around Queens.

But, assuming Artest is not actually making a statement about our country's immigration policy, his dramatic name change may be indicative of a psychiatric disorder whose symptoms appear to afflict professional athletes and popstars alike. For most psychiatric diagnoses, there are people who legitimately suffer and clearly benefit from treatment. But, to be honest, if most of us were to have aspects of our daily behaviors assessed according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)--a mental health professional's diagnosing bible--we would walk away with a number of alarming and undoubtedly pharmacologically addressable diagnoses. Most skilled clinicians attempt to balance science and clinical judgment by identifying how the patient's life is impaired by the symptoms being presented. Life, like obscenity, is contextual. 

In my experience as both a psychologist and a person with a pulse and eyes, I would say that a disproportionately large number of people who are famous would meet full criteria for what we mental health folks call "Mania." In order for a lay person to be slapped with a label of having had a "Manic Episode" (usually in the context of "mood swings," or "Bipolar Disorder"), according to the DSM, they would need to experience at least three of the following symptoms:

1) inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
2) decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep)
3) more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
4) flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
5) distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
6) increase in goal-directed activity (at work, at school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
7) excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments).

For non-famous people, these behaviors are generally severely problematic, causing them to burn through friends, family, jobs, money. It is a disorder that has physiological roots to it (i.e. a brain chemistry that makes one predisposed to these mood swings) as well as environmental (i.e. living in an environment that exacerbates rather than mollifies these behaviors). For famous people, these symptoms are a prerequisite for celebrity. But I will also tell you that I work with adolescents who are detained in jail, and for every Lady Gaga who states she "always knew" she would be famous,  there are scores and scores of teens who say exactly the same thing. Your guess is as good as mine as to why Lady Gaga and Kanye West--with their seemingly inflated egos, endless talk about themselves, pursuit of multiple interests, changing styles, lavish spending sprees, and other unusual behaviors--ended up on the cover of magazines and not in jail. 

Lest one accuse me of not being a fan of either World Peace or world peace, I will tell you that I am neutral about the former, but an advocate of the latter. I know nothing about the former Mr. Artest's career statistics, but I would hazard to guess that anyone with such a grandiose mission may have other deficiencies for which to compensate. This is less of a professional clinical opinion as it is a female one. 


  1. You put into text what I've often the news anyday and you see some of these celebrities flaming out...Charlie Sheen, Lindsey Lohan, and Britney Spears come immediately to mind...

    Wonder what the outcome would be if they were on medication, which from the headlines, in my opinion is strongly indicated?

  2. PS, love the labels on your posts. :D Keith Urban got me 600 hits in one day...and he was only mentioned in a brief way. :D

  3. HI, Cath--I actually got the idea of using newsy labels from your Keith Urban post. I still don't quite understand what the labels are supposed to be for, but it's a good way to have some extra fun. I think Britney may be on her meds, which is why she is actually functioning lately. For Charlie and Lindsay... good luck to their psychiatrists! Take care! Best, Karen