Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bipolar Disorder and a Weird Court Case

Right now, a big story in this area is the trial of a high school gym teacher accused of giving alcohol to and having sex with five football players from her school.  As the trial progresses and more stories come out, the whole situation gets weirder and weirder and more salacious -- which, of course, makes for great news.

For various reasons, I had a morbid interest in this case from the beginning.  I got really interested, though, when this summer the teacher switched her plea from not guilty to guilty by reason of insanity.  I wondered what kind of mental illness would make her give her students vodka and then have group sex with them -- nymphomania?  Some kind of psychosis?

Oh, no.  It turns out, it's bipolar disorder!  This is what the local newspaper had to say (and, admittedly, it's not exactly the gold standard in hard-hitting journalism):
[Her] attorneys, Charlie H. Rittgers and his son, Charlie M. Rittgers, said [she] has a bipolar disorder and doesn’t recall the incidents.
So it's not only bipolar disorder, it's "a bipolar disorder."  I'm assuming he's referring to the different types of bipolar disorder (see the list here), but the way it's quoted, it just sounds weird. It's like saying, "she had a cough," like it was an isolated illness.  I don't know about anyone else, but I would never say, "oh, yeah, that's when I had a bad bout of bipolar disorder."

The teacher also claims to have no memory of the incidents.  I have no idea if bipolar mania (which I'm assuming is what the attorneys are referring to for the insanity plea) causes blackouts, but I did find this article on bipolar disorder and memory loss. It turns out the two are related -- but bipolar disorder causes problems with recall and details, which is way different than forgetting entire events.  I suppose alcoholism can cause blackouts, but I'm not sure that alcoholism would fly when trying to plead insanity.  This article indicates that alcohol intoxication alone is not grounds for an insanity defense, but it can affect the intent of the person accused of the crime.

I find it interesting that the only drug (other than alcohol) that's been mentioned that she was taking was Zoloft.  It seems to me if she had serious bipolar disorder, she would be on other meds in addition to Zoloft.  On the other hand, taking an antidepressant alone can cause a bipolar person to cycle into mania, so maybe if she was just on Zoloft, it was causing mania -- which can lead to reckless behavior, including drinking and reckless sex.

So, maybe she was in some sort of acute bipolar mania phase when having sex with these guys.  On several different occasions.  The only problem is, it seems like she knew it.

The prosecution presented several witnesses who testified the teacher admitted that she was having sex with the boys, and that if she was found out, she'd plead insanity.  Uh-oh.  This, for me, is where the story falls apart.  There's that old adage that if you think you're insane, then you're not -- when you're really far gone, you usually think you're fine.  If she was going around telling people she was doing these things and she'd just plead insanity, that kind of makes me wonder.

I want to stress here that I'm not saying she's not insane, or had some seriously impaired judgement.  And, there's no guarantee that the witnesses are telling the truth, or interpreting events truthfully.  And, frankly, to send her to jail seems to be stupid, as there are a lot of violent, repeat offenders who should be in jail and aren't (or aren't in jail for long enough).  I feel bad for her, I feel bad for her family, I feel bad for the "victims," and I feel bad for their families.

I also want to stress that information I'm getting is from the local paper and news stations, so I don't know how heavily I can rely on the entire story being told in 30-second sound bites and a few columns of newsprint.

What ultimately annoys me, though, is the idea that the lawyers are asserting that she has bipolar disorder, so she should be excused and absolved of responsibility for her actions (which is ultimately what the lawyers are trying to get the judge to buy).  Maybe she does have bipolar disorder; maybe she even had untreated mania.  But to say that those things caused her to drink alcohol, stand around naked, and have group sex with high school boys on at least five different occasions, seems to be a little shaky.  From what I know about bipolar disorder, it just doesn't work like that.

It will be interesting to see what the "experts" (psychiatrists, I assume) say when they take the stand, which should be later in the week.  Maybe I'm wrong; maybe bipolar disorder could cause this kind of behavior over a lengthy period of time. 

Man, if that's true, remind me to keep taking my meds!

1 comment:

  1. I have bipolar and was fired from my job as a teacher. I did nothing wrong except disclose my illness by writing a lengthy explanation which was intended to open a dialogue, seek support and help and mention some possible courses of action for the employer. One of these vague statements was received out of context , so they are using it as grounds for firing. I'm sure the real reason was that I have bipolar, and they didn't want the rest of the school community to have to deal with this bipolar teacher and to have to open the can of "accommodations worms".