There is a link going around about a soldier who left his position and was then held captive by the Taliban, who has since been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder. I have seen calls for this man’s execution, and claims that STPD is not a mental illness, but rather a personality disorder, which is supposed to be different. I understand that the military is a very polarizing topic, but I’d like to give my two cents.
First of all, there are multiple categories of personality disorder. STPD is categorized under Category A, which is described as odd, eccentric, bizarre. The personality disorders people usually think of when they hear the term Personality Disorder is Category B, described as dramatic or erratic, and includes Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. These are the three that carry the stigma of the term Personality Disorder, and I have further opinions on whether all of them deserve that stigma, but that is irrelevant here.
So, what we have established is that the traits normally associated with the term personality disorder does not necessarily apply here, so let’s go over what personality disorder does mean. Here is the definition of personality disorder from the Mayo Clinic
A personality disorder is a type of mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving. A person with a personality disorder has trouble perceiving and relating to situations and to people. This causes significant problems and limitations in relationships, social encounters, work and school.
Now, my understanding, from this definition and from further research, is that a personality disorder is, effectively, a mental illness that is much more pervasive than what is traditionally expected of a mental illness, especially in terms of interpersonal relationships. So now, here is the definition of STPD specifically, also from the Mayo Clinic:
Peculiar dress, thinking, beliefs, speech or behavior
Odd perceptual experiences, such as hearing a voice whisper your name
Flat emotions or inappropriate emotional responses
Social anxiety and a lack of or discomfort with close relationships
Indifferent, inappropriate or suspicious response to others
“Magical thinking” — believing you can influence people and events with your thoughts
Belief that certain casual incidents or events have hidden messages meant specifically for you
So, given the context of a man in the military who feels his superior has made a dangerous decision, and this man has STPD, it is entirely foreseeable that he may believe that attempting to bring his misgivings to an even further superior officer in a traditional manner would either result in nothing, or worse, in persecution. It would also be entirely foreseeable that a man in this position with STPD would feel that it was most appropriate to cause a scene in order to gain the attention he felt was suitable for the seriousness of the issue. By not only getting the attention of a superior officer, but the attention of multiple bases, he would, in his mind, force the hand of the superior officer to take notice.
Calling for this man’s execution, saying that STPD is irrelevant to this issue, and many other responses I’ve seen on social media to this issue have appalled – although not surprised – me. It shows me just how little understanding there is of mental illness, still. It also shows me how we pick and choose when mental illness is and is not an excuse for behavior.
This man did what he did because he viewed it as his best option in order to protect his comrades, and we call for his death. When a random white man kills several women for no reason other than that they are women and he wants revenge, we say he was mentally ill (without any proof of such) and call it a tragedy for all involved. Not only does this show me that we value the military more than we value the lives of women, it also shows me that what we value most about the military is not necessarily our soldiers or their well-being.
Mental illness is not something that can be cherry picked as an excuse when it suits one’s worldview. Murder is immoral regardless of whether a person had mental illness, and mental illness should not be an excuse, unless, perhaps, there is a break from reality, such as psychosis. What this man did should not be excused either simply because of mental illness, either; however, he did not murder, and what he did do is much more ethically ambiguous. Why is it then that he is the one who deserves execution by the standards of the masses?