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Stalking: The psychiatric truth behind ‘Baby Reindeer’ and the current realities of mental health – The Malta Independent




Following the success of the recent psychological thriller series baby reindeer and the controversies and debates after its publication, The Maltese Independent He selected a prominent topic, among others, from all the media whirlwind it caused: harassment. To better understand this abnormal behavior, psychiatrist Prof. Anton Grech was consulted.

The mental illness, or psychiatric gray area, behind the intense harassment of a person was explained by Grech, who, in addition to giving his professional commentary on the series, used it to show the direction that bullying behavior is taking on the networks. social. She went on to give practical advice to all parties, including the loved ones of a “stalker”, as well as giving insight into the degree of stigma Malta has towards mental health and its treatment.

When asked to define stalking, Grech said it is when someone shows unrequited interest in another person. She said the person showing interest persists to the extent that the other person feels uncomfortable or threatened.

Regarding the “line in the sand” that a stalker must cross in order for a person to be harassed, even though the victim may possibly have doubts and paranoia about what is happening, there is the simple test: “Do I feel uncomfortable or threatened?” ?”, Grech believes.

He said that someone who is a “stalker” does not do it “frivolously” due to their serious mental illness or other psychological problems. Grech added that, although it is “difficult” to see, people who participate in bullying are “victims of their own condition” and, while their actions cannot be tolerated in any way, they cannot be demonized.

The exhibition of the real life character of the baby reindeer The series illustrates Grech’s perception of the stalking pattern movement in contemporary times. He highlighted the prominent role of social networks in current cases of harassment.

Grech said the main problem is that people have social media profiles that can be followed and, in turn, contacted, for example through comments that can be repeated so intensely that they can reach the level of harassment.

Bullying cannot be “put under one umbrella,” Grech said, when asked if bullying behavior is a “pathology” or disease. “Anything that causes suffering and discomfort is beyond normal.” Grech explained that for this reason it is not normal behavior and in some cases a serious mental illness occurs.

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He explained that in approximately 10% of cases, there is serious mental pathology or illness. Grech gave an example using the condition erotomania, which he explained is when someone becomes obsessed with another person, usually a celebrity, being in love with them and wanting to reciprocate their love interest despite the difficulty of forming a relationship with them.

He explained that it is a branch of psychosis, known as delusional disorder, which he defined as a false belief in which the patient firmly believes and which cannot be reasoned with. Grech said this is why erotomania patients cannot be convinced that the celebrity is not interested in them. In such cases, he said patients “definitely” need treatment, usually medication.

Grech said the remaining 90% of people with bullying behavior “go beyond the norm” but do not necessarily have a mental illness, or in other words, do not reach the scope of a mental illness. When asked if this was a psychiatric gray area, he said there is a gray area in everything as people’s behavior cannot be “pigeonholed”.

Grech prefers to see things on a “continuum” that has an inherent gray area and illustrated the point by saying that a patient may have severe depression, while someone may be very sad even though they are not classified as depressed, so they fall into the gray area. She added that in this 90% of “gray zone” cases, the best treatment would be psychotherapy.

Stalking behavior is further complicated by local cultures. Grech said that psychiatry and mental illness, as a whole, must always be considered in the context of a particular culture. He gave an example with Malta saying that if the majority of people are Catholic and believe in the afterlife, that person would go around saying that there is life after death without problems. However, Grech said that if that same person enters a different culture, with different beliefs, and still says she believes in an afterlife, she could be considered delusional.

Regarding the typical characteristics of victims and perpetrators of bullying, there is a lack of research on this in Malta, Grech said. However, based on her practice and experience abroad, in the EU and the UK, she said Malta appears to have a similar situation to other countries and there is evidence that the main victims are women. Grech said that generally, the most common harassing behavior is from a man toward a woman and the second most common is from woman to woman, but these typical patterns are not mutually exclusive.

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Generally, the damage that a period of bullying can do to a person varies widely, Grech said, ranging from harm to discomfort. He said it depends on a number of variables that affect the victim, such as their psychological resilience, their current situation in life and what led to the harassment in the first place. He noted that stalking behavior can be carried out toward complete strangers or ex-partners, and all of this contributes to harm.

Grech said that if someone feels threatened they should go to the police but recommended ceasing all contact with the person carrying out the harassment. Specifically, he tells those who are being bullied: “Don’t give mixed messages,” as he has seen cases in which the victim feels sorry for the bully and may even accept gifts offered to avoid offending them. He added that this must be stopped, no matter how small, since the aggressor can misinterpret the gestures and perpetuate the harassment. “No response, no contact at all, pretty direct, but I think that’s how it should be,” Grech said.

He said that the “best” way to help the victim of a bully is to help him get treatment and it is a win-win situation because in this way, the victim solves his problem “from the root”, while the bully, Like any individual, you deserve help.

Grech was then asked about the Malta Police’s ability to deal with harassment cases, to which he responded that they are generally effective and sensitive to psychiatric conditions, allowing them to turn to experts when there is a doubt.

Keeping in mind the principles of mental health first aid, Grech said that if one detects that a loved one is exhibiting bullying behavior tendencies, or any psychiatric condition in general, the best way to help them is to convince them to seek help and treatment. . She stressed the importance of this and noted that a major problem in psychiatry is that people often do not seek help. She added that compared to other types of illnesses, psychiatric conditions take patients the longest to seek help after symptoms appear, sometimes for many years, mainly due to stigma. Grech gave the example of obsessive-compulsive disorder whose average time for patients to seek help is eight years after its onset.

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On the other hand, Grech said that if a person realizes that they may be carrying out harassing behavior, they should seek help and “it is not a situation that one can solve alone with good intentions and good will. You need help and support.” She added that if anyone has concerns about her behavior, he should go for a checkup the same way someone with ankle pain goes to the doctor to see what’s wrong.

Grech said he ultimately believes it should not be the perpetrator’s role to reduce harm to the victim because there should not be any contact between them, as he recommends. He added that if a person with stalking tendencies receives the necessary help that works, there is no reason why they should not be reintegrated into society.

Finally, when asked if the demonization of the mentally ill is a common theme in psychiatry, in this case regarding stalkers, Grech said there are misconceptions and cited research showing that the “vast majority” of violence is carried out carried out by people who are good and there is a lot of stigma regarding the mentally ill, which must be combated. He said that mental illness is much more common than you think and that if you don’t have it, a first-degree relative probably does, and he wondered if anyone would demonize such close relatives.

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