Ex-senator Anthony Weiner has admitted to repeatedly sexting women indecent photos of himself and engaging in phone sex with an unknown number of women on the internet. This has led some pundits to suggest that he is mentally ill.
Some people draw that conclusion for a simple and understandable reason: we have a tendency in our society to identify anyone who engages in seriously outrageous behavior, especially if it is repeated over time, as mentally ill.
For example, Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) has been defined as a mental illness in which people act as if a person they are caring for, usually their child under the age of six, has a physical or mental illness. The person with the “disease” of MSP might create or exaggerate the child’s symptoms by simply lying, altering diagnostic tests (such as by contaminating diagnostic samples), falsifying medical records, or inducing symptoms through poisoning, causing infection, or other means.
People tend to act this way to obtain praise for their devotion to their child’s care or as a way to create a relationship with a doctor or other medical personnel. They are usually reluctant to leave the child’s bedside and otherwise attempt to prove that they are commendably devoted and caring parents.
But is this behavior a disease (MSP) or simply bad behavior? Is gambling too much a mental disease? Shopping too much? The same question must be asked about Anthony Weiner’s bad behavior. Is he the helpless victim of a disease over which he has no control? If so, is it Weiner’s disease? Sexting disease?
Anthony Weiner has willingly chosen to engage in sexting and phone sex because he enjoys doing so. He has evaluated the cost/benefit ratio and decided that sexting and having phone sex was exciting and rewarding at the times he chose do it.
It’s simply bad behavior, not mental illness.