- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2011

Are you “Sheened” out yet? I hope not. It’s time to stop laughing and talk about mental health.

Actor Charlie Sheen, who wowed us in “Wall Street” and cracked us up in “Hot Shots!” and “Major League,” has catapulted himself into national conversations for weeks now. The now-fired star of “Two and a Half Men” has wrecked a hotel room, gone into rehab for substance abuse, checked himself out to “rehab at home,” and butted heads with longtime employer CBS.

After television executives booted him off the show, the 45-year-old actor went on a public tear, telling interviewers he is “a rock star from Mars” and a “warlock” filled with “Adonis DNA” and “tiger blood.”

“I’m on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available because, if you try it, you will die,” he boasted to one reporter. “People can’t figure me out; they can’t process me. I don’t expect them to. You can’t process me with a normal brain.”

Dr. Drew Pinsky, author, addiction specialist and host of “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” was asked for his thoughts on Mr. Sheen, albeit from afar. He said it appeared that Mr. Sheen was having a hypomania attack, a “psychiatric emergency.”

Mr. Sheen later dismissed Dr. Pinsky as “a clown,” saying the doctor “should be ashamed of himself” for offering “a prognosis about somebody you’ve never been in the same room with.”

Mr. Sheen’s father and brother, actors Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, asked people to lift him up with prayer. Charlie Sheen sneered at them, too: “Back off with your judgment,” he said.

Exasperating. Infuriating. Pathetic. Frightening. These are common descriptions of life with someone caught in the grip of mental illness, personality disorder or substance abuse.

Among my collection of books on mental illness, one, written by Nina W. Brown, a professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., has a checklist for a particular version of extreme narcissism.

She writes in “Loving the Self-Absorbed: How to Create a More Satisfying Relationship with a Narcissistic Partner” that a person with “exhibitionistic destructive narcissistic pattern” is likely to:

• Make grand entrances and exits.

• Engage in reckless behavior.

• Be excessively concerned with body appearance.

• Be cold and haughty at times.

• Exaggerate and inflate accomplishments or acquisitions.

Such a person also “seeks admiration for sexual prowess,” is “very seductive but also rejecting,” “speaks loudly and interrupts others” and “plays to the audience.”

I’m not giving a “prognosis” here, but when I read that list, I certainly thought of Mr. Sheen and his outrageous behaviors and comments.

Narcissism is one of many personality disorders that wreak havoc in personal, work and family relationships. These disorders, as well as mental illness and substance abuse, don’t care what other talents or assets a person has; they just take over a person’s life until they are stopped, mediated or medicated. They are anything but funny.

Years ago, I attended a free, 12-week “family to family” course at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Its goal is to educate people so they can cope more effectively with ill loved ones.

In these meetings, I heard people speak of things they couldn’t share with others: How a once-dynamic husband was so depressed he wouldn’t bathe or leave his chair by the window; how a child was so mercurial that someone had to make sure every morning that cutlery and other sharp objects were hidden; how many ill people made their family members “walk on eggshells” to ward off explosions of rage.

When Mr. Sheen rants about destroying earthworm people with his “fire-breathing fists,” he is safely on the screen. But, as I heard in the NAMI classes, when it’s an angry full-grown family member making wild threats in person, it’s beyond scary; no one knows what they will do to others or themselves.

In the real world, no one is entertained by “madness.” It’s a cry for help that deserves to be recognized and treated as such.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at [email protected]

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