I recently ran a social experiment to see how people might react to a person with dissociative identity disorder (DiD). To do this, I created a throwaway account on Reddit. Then I wrote a semi-fictitious story about how my alter accessed the internet and caused numerous problems.
For anybody who’s not familiar with dissociative identity disorder (DID), it’s similar to multiple personality disorder (MPD), except more extreme. Also, DID represents a lost sense of identity, and/or a complete disconnection from the rest of the world. So, unlike MPD, there’s no shared connection between the person’s identities. No shared thoughts, moods, actions or memories, which is why there’s often huge gaps of unexplained memory loss.
NOTE: The purpose of this test was not to write a convincing story, but rather, to see how people might react to discussing the mental health condition itself.
Testing the Social Stigma Behind Mental Health
First, I began the story with a special note, which I thought might give away my experiment, but it didn’t.
Then, I shared a story about my DID. I purposely used the pronouns “s/he” and “its,” in an attempt to show a disassociation between the identities.
At the end of the story, I tried to add an extra element of plausibility. I wrote a heartfelt explanation about what a person with DID might experience during a detached episode.
Like i said before, I did not share this story or run this experiment to garner votes. I shared it to see how people might react if a person with dissociative identity disorder shared a similar personal story. And all I can say is that I’m both saddened, shocked, and disturbed by the results.
Wait. What are We Talking About?
When I first posted the story to the Reddit forum, it received 11 upvotes within an hour. But since I didn’t see questions or comments, I decided to log off and check back later.
About three hours later, I discovered that the story only had 4 upvotes. But also that the post had at least 30 comments. So, I thought: People were talking! And I loved that, until I realized what they were talking about…me.
Here’s the very first comment I received, which was pointless and completely off topic. The Reddit community noticed and continues to down-vote the comment, even today.
I’ve learned that it’s typical for people make jokes and use sarcasm about mental health. Especially when they don’t know how else to respond.
Is Dissociative Identity Disorder Attention Seeking?
One of the strangest things I learned from this experiment is that there’s an army of bullshit-callers on mental health. And people seemed to spend more time judging my character, and my story’s credibility, than they did understanding.
NOTE: This Reddit user deleted his/her comment after seeing my response, which is below.
At first, this user (below) didn’t care whether my story was true or not. He/she just wanted to call me out as an attention seeker. But then once I challenged his/her’s intentions, he/she stopped responding.
Unfortunately, there will always be people who either don’t believe a mental illness is real, or don’t care. But it’s this kind of ignorance and indifference that keeps the mental health stigma alive. People who are suffering from a mental illness deserve respect. And they deserve to feel like they can share their stories without being labeled as an attention seeker.
Testing the Self-Stigma Behind the Mental Health
I’ll admit, the lack of positive and supportive comments bothered me, at first. Especially since I posed a serious question that went completely unanswered.
I asked this question to help foster communication and prove that the: You Are Not Alone campaign is working, but my efforts failed miserably here.
Eventually, one person did admit to having a mental health condition, but he/she didn’t go into much detail about it.
I didn’t respond to this user, so I still don’t know how to gauge his/her level of interest on the subject. Also, I still question what his/her motivation was because unlike the list of questions below, he/she contacted me using a private message instead of the public comment thread. And to me, the entire message reads like a series of interview questions, or like he/she was looking for information to help write a thesis.
Just to clarify: I wanted people to ask questions and communicate. Because asking questions about a mental health condition is NOT the problem. The problem comes from people who ask questions with hidden motives, and not to help communicate or educate.
Proving My Dissociative Identity Disorder
Perhaps the most disturbing part of this experiment was discovering the number of people who either didn’t believe that dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a real mental health condition, or wanted me to “prove” how bad my mental health condition was.
Here’s the current top comment, which barely managed to use proper English. Apparently, this Reddit user was either in a rush, or he/she didn’t think the topic was important enough to bother providing a full thought.
O.K., no. I probably didn’t write the most convincing story. But it’s no wonder why people suffering from a mental illness feel reluctant to share their stories. Yes, embarrassment is one factor, but so is trying to prove yourself by answering judgmental questions like: Are your symptoms really that bad? Or, dealing with ignorant responses like: “This sounds made up as fuck!”
When did mental health become such a competition?
In fact, I could tell by some of the responses that the way I described the extent and severity of my symptoms mattered, a lot. Because some people asked a bunch of random questions as if they were still trying to decide whether to believe the condition exists, or not.
Fear of judgment is why so many people don’t talk about their problems and never seek treatment. Because nobody wants to feel like a zoo animal, or have all their symptoms put on display for the whole world to see. So, I kept my symptoms as general as possible, and I didn’t elaborate on much. Because I know if I had, my responses would’ve just given the naysayers, the non-believers, and the bullshit-callers more ammo to use against me.
Then there were the self-proclaimed researchers, doctors, and skeptics.
And this user, who tried to pass off several well-written, yet opinionated articles as fact:
But fortunately, one person fought back with their own research.
Of course, the naysayer didn’t respond to the rebuttal. However, a little later he/she did show his/her true motivation for sharing, which was clearly not to communicate and educate. So, I felt compelled to say something.
NOTE: It still bothers me that this comment was eventually removed by moderators for two reasons. One, because a “removed” comment turns gray, so many readers don’t get to see the debate. And two, because I thought this interaction was one of the most interesting and productive parts of the entire comment thread.
Lots of Bloopers and Outright Lies
O.K., now for some truth. There are many things I wish I could’ve done differently with this experiment. Because I don’t lie – in fact, I’m usually brutally honest. But this time I felt like telling a few little white lies seemed necessary. I knew I had to play the part if I wanted to get results.
However, I’ll be the first to say: I still don’t know shit about dissociative identity disorder. But I’m willing to learn. Because there are so many great questions that I couldn’t answer, and I still feel bad about that. But I also know that each person’s experience with DID is probably different. This is why mental health education is so important.
In closing, I’d like to thank all of Reddit for their due diligence. And for having privacy policies, which helped contribute to the making of this social experiment.
Since I had set up a throwaway account, I had multiple logins from the same IP address, which Reddit caught! First, I received an email about suspicious activity on my account. Then I received an automated message about violating the multiple account policy. I thought I had screwed up the whole thing. But instead, I used the violation to come up with a plausible story in support of this social experiment. So, for what it’s worth…thanks!