Oscar Pistorius to Undergo Anxiety Evaluation

Oscar Pistorious At Indictment HearingThe trial of South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius—who is accused of fatally shooting Reeve Steenkamp, his model girlfriend—may begin drawing some attention to the experience of people who struggle with anxiety. Pistorius, who claims he shot Steenkamp because he mistakenly believed she was an intruder, reportedly experiences high levels of anxiety, and the judge in the case has ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Pistorius and Anxiety

Pistorius’ defense originally raised the anxiety issue as a potential explanation for why the sprinter shot his girlfriend. Through his lawyers, Pistorius argued that the combined effects of an absent father and a mother who was so frightened of intruders that she slept with a gun yielded a terrified adult with anxiety. A psychiatrist testified on behalf of the defense, arguing that anxiety could undermine Pistorius’ judgment and make him quick to react to a perceived threat.

Although the defense believes Pistorius’ anxiety might help explain the shooting, the defense did not argue that Pistorius had mental health issues or should undergo an evaluation. However, the judge in the case ordered an evaluation, which could require an extended stay at a state mental health facility. The defense in the case opposes such as stay, and has not argued that Pistorius’ anxiety undermines his competence or ability to stand trial.

Anxiety and Violence

Anxiety is not typically correlated with violence. Indeed, people with mental health challenges such as anxiety are more likely to experience violence than be aggressors. However, Pistorius argues that he didn’t intentionally kill Steenkamp and that the shooting wasn’t an act of violence or aggression. Instead, it was a split-second reaction to a perceived intruder.

Such a reaction could be explained by anxiety. People experiencing posttraumatic stress, for example, have a heightened startle reflex that could cause them to perceive a thread as more dangerous than they otherwise might. Although Pistorius does not claim to have posttraumatic stress, his behavior could still be explained by feelings of vulnerability and anxiety. Pistorius has claimed that he was not wearing his prosthetic legs when he heard what he believed to be an intruder, and this likely heightened his sense of vulnerability.

Pistorius’s case yet again raises the debate about the connection between mental health concerns and violence, and the final psychiatric report may alter the direction of his trial.

References:

  1. Cowell, A. (2014, May 12). Psychiatrist testifying for defense says Pistorius has ‘Anxiety Disorder’. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/world/africa/oscar-pistorius-trial.html
  2. Desmarais, S., and Shipman, M. (2014, February 25). Study shows mentally ill more likely to be victims, not perpetrators, of violence. Retrieved from http://news.ncsu.edu/releases/wms-desmarais-violence2014/
  3. Dixon, R. (2014, May 14). Judge orders Oscar Pistorius to undergo psychiatric evaluation. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/world/africa/la-fg-pistorius-mental-health-evaluation-20140514-story.html
  4. Raison, C. (2012, August 24). PTSD: Know the symptoms and when to get help. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/24/health/raison-shootings-ptsd/

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  • Zoe

    Zoe

    May 21st, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    So let’s say that he is found to clinically possess the traits of someone who experiences high anxiety. Great, that helps some, but it in no way excuses the fact that he could have committed murder. And I don’t think that there are too many people who say that he did it because he was scared. He was jealous/

  • Allyson

    Allyson

    May 21st, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    I am curious why the trial has gone on for this long and they are just now deciding that this could have been a factor and would like to have him tested. Why not at the beginning or before the trial even began? It would seem that that would have made a whole lot more sense to have this kind of result at the evry beginning than it would be now in the middle or even close to the end. I have not paid all that much attention to this se=ince it is overseas, but it feels to me like this is someone grasping at straws, looking for any sort of plausible explanation to get their client excused. I know that anxiety is a real issue for a whole lot of people and believe me I do not discount it nor do I disbelieve that this could be an issue for Pistorious. But what I am saying is that it all seems sort of suspicios for this to be raised now, this far into the proceedings.

  • Toby

    Toby

    May 22nd, 2014 at 4:34 AM

    In some ways you can kind of see why he would have feelings of anxiety though. He is never going ot have felt like he would have a fair fight given his physical disability that he typically would handle remarkably but in an intruder type of scenraio would he be able to be fast enough to save himself, or in this case, someone else in the hous? It is pretty compelling if it comes out that he is going to use this as a defense for what he did. I know that he has already said that, but what if there is evidence that proves that he does indeed suffer from anxiety disorder, does that mean that he will be found not guilty because of it? It is definitely something that mental health professionals across the globe I would assume will be looking at closely.

  • stanley

    stanley

    May 23rd, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    I agree that this could have been a big problem for him, but at the same timehe heard her screaming, he learned that it was her in the bathroom and he still kept shooting?
    I just doesn’t add up or make sense.
    I think that there was far more intent to harm there than what generalized anxiety would explain.

  • Gemma

    Gemma

    May 30th, 2014 at 3:57 AM

    I had heard that this was going to happen, but I haven’t heard any recent news about the testing outcomes. Has anyone else been keeping up with this case? Maybe I just missed it but this one has kind of dropped off of what people are talking about.

  • michael k.i

    michael k.i

    July 6th, 2014 at 7:00 PM

    thanks for share!

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