Livestreaming a Nervous Breakdown

It felt voyeuristic, even somewhat obscene, listening to the livestream and reading the twitter feeds as David Lee Fry fell apart in front of our digital eyes and ears.

Look, WC isn’t a psychologist and doesn’t pretend to be one. And “nervous breakdown” isn’t even a recognized term in psychology.1 But that’s what it was; that’s what we heard. Since we are being wholly unscientific here, let’s resort to Wikipedia:

Mental breakdown (also known as a nervous breakdown) is a general term for an acute, time-limited psychiatric disorder that manifests primarily as severe stress-induced depressionanxiety, or dissociation in a previously functional individual, to the extent that they are no longer able to function on a day-to-day basis until the disorder is resolved. A nervous breakdown is defined by its temporary nature, and often closely tied to psychological burnoutsevere overworksleep deprivation, and similar stressors, which may combine to temporarily overwhelm an individual with otherwise sound mental functions.

Was there stress? Obviously; if being surrounded by a small army of armed FBI agents demanding your surrender isn’t stressful it’s hard to imagine what is. Did Fry exhibit depression, anxiety or dissociation? As Fry rambled between poison in the air, nuclear power plants, the President’s treason, fear of prison rape, threats of suicide, demands for a Muslim cleric and several dozen other complaints and demands, we listened to a human psyche coming seriously unglued in real time.

WC will grant you that Mr. Fry may have been only a marginally “previously functional individual,” but clinically disturbed people can have mental breakdowns, too.

WC will leave Mr. Fry to the treatment he needs and the insanity defense his public defender will doubtless consider. The blog post isn’t about Fry; it’s about the tens of thousands of voyeurs who listened to Fry’s breakdown. Including WC.

Is this what social media has done? Made us all voyeurs? How can this be a good thing?

There are unconfirmed reports that listeners on the livestream peaked at 60,000 or so. Who knows how many people followed the Oregon Live twitter feed from four(!) reporters at the police barricade outside of Malheur. Someone tell WC what useful social function was served. We criticize the gun-humping Second Amendment obsessives, who will accept absolutely no limits or constraints on their constitutional rights to keep and bear arms. Do our First Amendment rights extend so far as to allow us to listen in real time to an unfolding psychosis?2

Fry will likely get at least some of the treatment he obviously needs now. Maybe, just to start with, a tranquilizer for that very long ride from Burns to Portland.

But what treatment will American society get for what WC believes is an unhealthy, even obsessive voyeurism?


  1. According to Wikipedia, “the closest DSM-IV diagnostic category to nervous breakdown is Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood (Acute). Adjustment disorders and nervous breakdowns are both acute reactions to stress that resolve after removal of the stressor. 
  2. The comments to the Oregon Live twitter stream were vile and poisonous. If a man was on a ledge on an office building, threatening to suicide, these would have been the idiot below shouting “Jump!” 

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