Dr. Peggy Drexler
March 18, 2014 11:50 am

Singer Chris Brown has long been making headlines for his violent tendencies, including the infamous 2009 assault of his then-girlfriend Rihanna and a more recent incident in which he threw a rock through his own mother’s car window. In October, he was arrested on charges that he punched a 20-year-old art student outside a Washington, D.C. hotel.

But he was getting help, if not entirely willingly: In November, Brown was sentenced to a 90-day, live-in anger management program in Malibu. And turns out there was an explanation for all that ire: Court documents obtained by E! News and published earlier this month included a letter from the rehab facility that said Brown had received multiple diagnoses that included bipolar II disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and severe insomnia, all of which, if left untreated, can lead to aggressive behavior. While a judge noted that “It is evident that [Brown] has responded well to the dual diagnosis treatment,” the letter also warned that, “Mr. Brown will also require close supervision by his treating physician in order to ensure his bipolar mental health condition remains stable.”

Last week, though, Brown was asked to leave the rehab center after violating “internal rules.” The discharge may have represented a violation of his probation in connection with the 2009 assault of Rihanna. He was sent back to jail over the weekend and was due to appear in court on Monday.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition caused by a terrifying or traumatic event. Symptoms can include emotional numbness, anxiety, flashbacks, and nightmares. The condition was first used to describe the difficulty many war veterans had after returning from battle, specifically following the Vietnam War, and is still most often discussed in the context of veterans returning from frontlines. That said, PTSD can occur following any situation or circumstance involving extreme stress. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders even suggested that PTSD may not depend on the existence of actual trauma, but simply be used to describe a cluster of symptoms that can occur with or without trauma. While the symptoms of PTSD can be lessened with therapy, medication, or a combination thereof, it’s a disorder that most often stays with a person for many years.

Though the cause of Brown’s PTSD was not revealed, it’s been reported in the past that he may have suffered through an abusive childhood. In 2007, he told Giant magazine that his stepfather used to beat his mom, which “terrified” him. He told another publication that his “first sexual experience” was at age 8, which, of course, would legally be defined as rape.

But while PTSD can help explain Brown’s tendency towards violence, it can’t excuse it. Within the medical community, the PTSD diagnosis has often come under fire for being overused, particularly in litigation. One study, meanwhile, found that many clinicians were unable to tell “real” from “fake” PTSD, suggesting that many patients may “pretend” to have the disorder. Without more information on the root cause of Brown’s PTSD, it’s difficult to comment on either its severity or its legitimacy, though we have no reason to doubt the statements made by the Malibu facility. What we do know: His condition was reportedly left untreated for an unspecified length of time, and made worse by what has been described as “inappropriate self-medication” through excessive drug and alcohol use. What’s more, it does seem as if the only time Brown sought help was when he was court-ordered to do so.

Additionally, it’s likely that Brown suffers from a sort of condition common among celebrities, especially those who make it big—and earn big bucks—at a young age. (Brown was 16 when he released his chart-topping debut album, which won a string of awards—and earned millions). The music industry in particular has a history of encouraging bad behavior, and why shouldn’t it? Bad behavior sells. Case in point: Brown’s legal troubles, including arrests for girlfriend beating, have not stalled his career. And with every headline Brown makes, the pockets of the music executives responsible for his career get a little deeper. But then again, so do his.

It’s evident that Chris Brown needs professional help, and given his tendency to act out with violence, such help seems necessary not only for Brown’s safety, but others’ as well. Rehab is preferable to jail, where Brown presumably won’t receive the same level of care for his disorders. But he also has to want to get better, whether a judge insists he do so or not.

Featured image via AP/Lucy Nicholson

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