Amber Heard’s Histrionic Personality Disorder Diagnosis Is Vital to Understanding Celebrity Culture
Amber Heard was publicly diagnosed with “Histrionic Personality Disorder” during her trial with ex Johnny Depp. But what does that actually mean?
Before the ongoing and highly publicized Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard defamation trial took a break last month, a mental health professional testified that Heard suffers from two distinct personality disorders.
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After a thorough evaluation, Dr. Shannon Curry, a clinical and forensic psychologist hired by Depp’s legal team, diagnosed Amber Heard with both borderline personality disorder (BPD) and a lesser known but equally serious mental health condition called histrionic personality disorder (HPD).
In order to better understand what this means, it’s important to get clear on what personality is.
What Is the Definition of Personality – And What Is a Personality Disorder?
“Personality is the way of thinking, feeling and behaving that makes a person different from other people. An individual’s personality is influenced by experiences, environment (surroundings, life situations) and inherited characteristics,” according to the American Psychiatric Association.
In other words, personalities can be understood as the unique lenses through which we experience the world. Our individual personalities usually stay consistent throughout our lives but this isn’t the case for someone who suffers from a personality disorder.
“A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.”
Dr. Dawn Hughes, a psychologist hired by Amber Heard’s legal team, disagreed with Shannon Curry’s previous findings, arguing that Heard suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) instead, as a result of the intimate partner violence she experienced during her relationship with Johnny Depp.
What Is Disease Overlap and How Is It Affecting Amber Heard?
In reality, it’s possible that Amber Heard may suffer from all three conditions mentioned above in this article at the same time, which in the medical field is called comorbidity.
“Disease overlap is common,” according to Psychology Today. “Multiple disorders can exacerbate one another and make treatment a longer process or more difficult to achieve.”
For example, borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder fall under a category of mental conditions called Cluster B disorders. This means they are both categorized as involving unpredictable and dramatic behavior, and while they share similarities, there are also key differences that set them apart.
It’s important to understand these differences in order to spot the signs of each disorder, to better understand their impact and make way for targeted treatment options. While BDP is more commonly diagnosed, histrionic personality disorder still impacts a considerable segment of the population.
So, what is it exactly and what does it mean for Amber Heard?
What Is Histrionic Personality Disorder?
Histrionic personality disorder is a Cluster B disorder, which is an umbrella term used in psychiatry to describe a group of conditions that can cause a person to have difficulty controlling their emotions and exhibit erratic behavior.
The American Psychiatric Association defines histrionic personality disorder as “a pattern of excessive emotion and attention seeking.”
“People with histrionic personality disorder may be uncomfortable when they are not the center of attention, may use physical appearance to draw attention to themselves or have rapidly shifting or exaggerated emotions.”
In her testimony, Curry explained that Amber Heard used impressionistic speech on several occasions during her 12-hour assessment, which is a style of speech that is described as vague and dramatic.
“It tends to be very flowery, it uses a lot of descriptive words like magical, wonderful, and it can go on for quite some time and yet it really lacks any substance,” said Curry.
“They might describe emotions, they might describe the events but very rarely, and Miss Heard did not, say ‘I feel vulnerable.’ She never really indicated a vulnerable feeling of her own.”
People online have been quick to describe Amber Heard’s testimony as overly dramatic, almost as if she’s been acting, and have even accused her of lying. Holding into account Curry’s diagnosis, Amber Heard’s behaviors and mannerisms on the stand could very well be symptoms of histrionic personality disorder.
“For people with histrionic personality disorder, their self-esteem depends on the approval of others and doesn’t come from a true feeling of self-worth. They have an overwhelming desire to be noticed and often behave dramatically or inappropriately to get attention,” explains Cleveland Clinic.
“People with histrionic personality disorder often don’t realize their behavior and way of thinking may be problematic,” the Cleveland Clinic goes on to explain. And this is where the importance of diagnosis comes in: Receiving an accurate diagnosis can help the person who’s suffering recognize their symptoms, understand themselves better and most importantly get the support they need. Hopefully, this will be the outcome for Amber Heard.
Not only is histrionic personality disorder a difficult (but crucial) disorder to identify, especially if there are coexisting conditions, it’s still widely misunderstood and the exact causes remain unknown.
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That said, ongoing studies point to childhood trauma or abuse, genetics, and exposure to certain parenting styles early in life as factors. Unfortunately, the common thread is that events of the past and heredity are elements of life beyond any one person’s control.
What is within Amber Heard’s control, and anyone else who’s been recently diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder, is the choice to seize the opportunity to practice self-compassion, get to know oneself better and get treatment before symptoms get worse.
The Important Link between Celebrity Culture and Mental Health
Televised trials and celebrity obsession are nothing new, but because of its high-profile nature, the Amber Heard v. Johnny Depp defamation trial has become one of the most famous celebrity court proceedings since the O.J Simpson trial.
Both actors now have the details of their private lives on full display, including mental health conditions, for the public to consume. This spotlight on Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s otherwise personal lives continues to fuel the media, and now social media’s obsession with celebrity culture.
That said, if anything, the public airing of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s dirty laundry serves as a reminder that celebrities are human just like us when it comes to dealing with relationship problems and struggling with mental health issues.
It’s not clear whether Amber Heard ever received a diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder before the trial, but in the event that it was the first time she ever heard of it (like many of us) , Heard is now equipped with more information about herself and she has the choice of what to do with the information next, if the diagnosis turns out to be accurate.
If you or someone you know shows signs of a personality disorder or has been recently diagnosed, let this also be a reminder that help exists and that change is possible.