Kony 2012 filmmaker Jason Russell's family released a statement Wednesday to say doctors believe his very public breakdown last week resulted from "a brief reactive psychosis," continuing their campaign to make sure the public ruled out the possibility that Russell might have been using drugs or alcohol. NBC San Diego's initial news report last week broke the story that Russell was "detained in Pacific Beach on Thursday for being drunk in public and masturbating, according to the San Diego Police Department." (Other news outlets, including TMZ, also quickly carried reports he might have been drunk.)
His wife's statement after the news broke made sure to address those reports of substance abuse:
[Russell] has never had a substance abuse or drinking problem, and this episode wasn't caused by either of those things. But yes, he did some irrational things brought on by extreme exhaustion and dehydration.
It struck us that of all the alleged activities, "being under the influence" was the one his family and friends tried to debunk first, as if that was the most damning. But needless to say, people didn't give much credence to the idea that "dehydration" might lead someone to strip naked in public.
On Wednesday, Russell's family gave the updated explanation:
The preliminary diagnosis he received is called brief reactive psychosis, an acute state brought on by extreme exhaustion, stress and dehydration ... Though new to us, the doctors say this is a common experience given the great mental, emotional and physical shock his body has gone through in these last two weeks.
Before the family's statement was released, there was already suspicion that it may have been a psychotic incident not induced by drugs. Ford Vox, a brain injury physician, wrote for The Atlantic that after viewing video of Russell's break-down, a psychotic diagnosis seemed most likely to him:
it is highly unlikely that Jason Russell's behaviors in the streets of San Diego on Thursday March 15th were intentional. It is much more likely that he was experiencing a psychotic episode -- a manic state -- an event as recognizable to some clinicians as a heart attack.
It's worth reading Vox's full piece, which is very persuasive. Note especially, though, that he emphasizes that Russell's actions weren't "willful." So while substance abuse seems to be the least notable thing Russell was accused of, it does decide the question of whether the other actions resulted from a self-inflicted state or an involuntary one. The family and friends went after the substance abuse report first, it seems, because it was the only one that was potentially false (the rest is visible on video) and the one that, when debunked, would make his actions more sympathetic. Perhaps, as Vox suggests, we might even see a campaign from the activist to educate people about Russell's condition.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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