NEW: New York Times: “Walker Says His Mental Illness Is Healed. Experts Say It’s Not So Simple.”

October 20, 2022

Today, the New York Times released a report that raises new questions about Herschel Walker and how he has “invoked his history of mental illness in his defense” to avoid taking responsibility for his violent behavior and disturbing conduct. 

The New York Times report includes analysis from medical and mental health experts who point out that Dissociative Identity Disorder “does not cause violent behavior.” 

New York Times: Walker Says His Mental Illness Is Healed. Experts Say It’s Not So Simple.

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg – October 20, 2022

Key Points

  • Confronting a barrage of accusations about his personal life — including claims he threatened women and paid for an abortion despite his public opposition to the procedure — Herschel Walker has repeatedly invoked his history of mental illness in his defense.
  • In the ad, and on the campaign trail, Mr. Walker, a former football star, does not elaborate. But in his 2008 memoir, “Breaking Free,” he revealed that he had been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder. He described his 12 “alters” — distinct identities that helped him cope with the trauma of being bullied as a child. He wrote of rage and “out-of-control behavior”; he played Russian roulette with a loaded gun.
  • Now, as he tries to steady a campaign that could determine control of the Senate, Mr. Walker often speaks of these events in religious, not medical, terms. He either denies the accusations or says he does not remember what happened. Still, he casts himself as a redemption story, saying he is a Christian “saved by grace.”
  • But experts say Mr. Walker’s assertion that he has “overcome” the disorder is simplistic at best: Like other mental illnesses, dissociative identity disorder cannot be cured in the classic sense. 
  • Psychiatrists say that while patients can learn to manage this disorder — and even live symptom-free for extended periods — the symptoms can recur, often triggered by stress. “You can get better,” said Dr. David Spiegel, a Stanford University psychiatry professor who studies and treats dissociative identity disorder. “But it doesn’t just evaporate.”
  • Mr. Walker’s retelling does not account for other complicating details. Experts say the disorder does not cause violent behavior. Some of the episodes — including an ex-girlfriend’s accusation that he had threatened her — took place after Mr. Walker claimed to have his disorder under control.
  • The Walker campaign did not respond this week to questions about his health history and has not released his medical records.
  • Last Friday night, during a debate with his Democratic opponent, Senator Raphael Warnock, Mr. Walker said he no longer needed treatment: “I continue to get help if I need help, but I don’t need any help. I’m doing well.”
  • In an interview with Axios last year, Mr. Walker likened his condition to a broken leg, saying, “I put the cast on. It healed.”
  • Democrats have said Mr. Walker’s description of his mental illness does not fully explain his previous behavior. In a statement, Mr. Warnock’s campaign manager, Quentin Fulks, said only that Mr. Walker had “not given Georgians an honest accounting of his violent past.”
  • Even Republican strategists say Mr. Walker should answer similar questions. 
  • Dissociative identity disorder, known by its acronym D.I.D., is a relatively rare psychiatric condition usually triggered by childhood trauma, including sexual or physical abuse, or war. Studies show it affects about 1 percent of the population, said Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University […]
  • Treatment typically involves intensive therapy [….] While there is no medication to treat this disorder, some patients take medicine for conditions that occur alongside it, such as depression. Patients are required during treatment to take responsibility for their behavior; Mr. Walker says he has done so.
  • “One of the core aspects of successful treatment for D.I.D. is holding people with the disorder responsible for their behavior, even when they say they don’t remember it, or that another self-state did it,” said Dr. Richard J. Loewenstein, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland and a leading expert in the disorder, which was known as multiple personality disorder until 1994, when the name was changed to reflect a more nuanced understanding of the condition.
  • In a 2014 ESPN documentary, he said he thought that in high school he might join the Marines, because it would give him license to “shoot people.” Instead, he pursued a career in sports. Football became his “coping mechanism.”
  • But after he retired from the Dallas Cowboys in 1997, Mr. Walker wrote, his life spun out of control. He had an extramarital affair. He played Russian roulette, “risking my life with a gun at my head.” (The book does not recount an episode in which his ex-wife, Cindy DeAngelis Grossman, said he put a gun to her head and threatened to “blow my brains out.” Mr. Walker has not denied the allegation, but says he does not remember doing so.)
  • In 2001, Mr. Walker writes, things came to a head when he grew enraged at a car salesman who was late in making a delivery. He could feel “my jaw pulsing and my teeth grinding,” he wrote, as a voice prodded him to pull out his pistol and kill the man. Another voice countered: “No Herschel, that’s wrong. You can’t shoot a man down in cold blood over this.”
  • At that point, Mr. Walker sought help from Jerry Mungadze, a therapist who gave him a diagnosis of D.I.D. and arranged for him to be treated as an outpatient at Del Amo psychiatric hospital in Torrance, Calif., where doctors confirmed the diagnosis, Mr. Walker wrote.
  • Dr. Mungadze, who wrote the introduction to Mr. Walker’s book, has since stirred controversy with his methods. Dr. Mungadze, who holds a doctorate in “counselor education,” according to his website, and is not a medical doctor, specializes in Christian counseling and employs a technique he calls brain mapping, in which he diagnoses patients by asking them to color in a map of a brain. Experts say it has no basis in science.
  • Mr. Walker has not said whether he still sees Dr. Mungadze, who declined an interview request.
  • As he campaigns, Mr. Walker has cast himself as a “champion for mental health,” and hits back at critics by saying they are perpetrating a stigma. At Friday night’s debate, he railed against “people like Senator Warnock that demonize mental health.” (Mr. Warnock has introduced a series of bills to expand mental health services.)


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