A persistent question which has plagued many observers of the apparently burgeoning adult SRA/DID claimant population is “where are they all coming from?”
We’ve talked here about the potential for generating false or distorted memories through various means—over-zealous and relentless questioning, for example, can convince some people that certain traumatic events, no matter how bizarre or unlikely, did actually happen to them.
And we’ve looked at some of the psychiatrists and psychologists whose patients went to them looking for help with relatively common-place issues, underwent hypnosis for “memory retrieval”, and came out believing they had DID.
But recently a reader pointed us in the direction of a fascinating and potentially very dangerous trend: YouTube as a hothouse for the production and nurturing of DID.
MedCircle: ‘What it’s like to live with Dissociative Identity Disorder’
On the YouTube channel “MedCircle”, we found this professional-looking video, narrated by a person named Kyle Kittleson, who bills himself as an “Animal behaviorist, Dog trainer, and Television host”.
He’s interviewing a woman named Encina Severa, who believes she has 11 “alters”, including a three-year-old girl who conveniently makes an appearance during the interview:
The video was posted in early July 2018, and to date has accrued 1,457,626 views, along with 6,020 comments, the vast majority of them positive.
The sense of fascinated admiration is palpable, and worrisome.
While we cannot say that each of these “DID fans” will go on to develop symptoms themselves, any more that a fan of horror films might go on to re-enact grisly murders using chainsaws, it’s clear that a door has been opened.
These people want more, more, MORE!
AlexMax Han: Instant YouTube Superstar
To fill that insatiable need for more DID-porn, a 19-year-old Asian woman has stepped in. Jess, using the channel name “AlexMax Han”, describes herself as having been diagnosed with PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and DID.
This video, the first of 13 on the channel, has had 6,800,000 views since it was posted on 11 August. When we first looked at the channel on 12 September it had 325,690 subscribers; as of 14 September, that number had leapt to ~335,000.
Heady stuff for a hitherto unknown teenager! Clearly, this stuff sells:
In a matter-of-fact tone, Jess introduces her alters by name, describes their function in her life, and describes some of the day-to-day trials of living with alters—for example, when her teen alter, Alex, puts hair gel in her hair, Jess is forced to wash her hair at the end of the day. Oh noes!
At about 8:45, Jess’s speech slows down, she looks a bit confused, a subtitle helpfully informs us “dissociating…” and then hey presto, her young alter, “Max”, greets the camera: “Hi, YouTube!”
Yes, it is just that obvious, and that cheesy.
This dissociation brought to you by…
Aside from the possibility that videos like this may be leading vulnerable individuals down a very dangerous garden path, one aspect of AlexMax Han’s channel which raised a few red flags is that it’s sponsored by a company called BetterHelp:Clicking on the “influencerlink” URL took us to this site:
“BetterHelp” is one of a growing number of online therapy companies. In their promotional material they emphasise that they use only licensed professional counsellors with a Master’s level degree or higher, which is certainly one step in the right direction.
According to an article last year in Fast Company,
BetterHelp is growing at a rapid clip, with membership doubling “year over year,” according to Jeff Williams, the company’s senior director of business development. BetterHelp was acquired by publicly traded Teladoc in 2015 in a $4.5 million deal, and is expected to exceed revenues of $27 million this year, according estimates provided on a recent quarterly conference call with analysts.
However, some therapists question whether clients can made real progress in a strictly online-based format. While some studies have shown promising results, Lynn Bufka, associate director for practice research and policy at the American Psychological Association, says that so far, studies have been far from definitive.
In an APA review of online therapeutic options, one therapist noted that it could be difficult to build and sustain a therapeutic relationship:
I’m such a people person, so it was tough for me to feel a real connection when I was just messaging with people….Plus a lot of people just stopped responding, and I felt like there wasn’t enough time to really build a relationship. It actually turned out to be more difficult than I imagined.
Risky situations may be difficult to manage at a distance, as well. For example, how would a therapist respond effectively to a client at risk of self-harm or suicide, when they may be unfamiliar with the person’s community resources or emergency services?
BetterHelp’s FAQ makes it clear that their service is not intended for people with “severe mental illness”, and states that it “is not capable of substituting for traditional face-to-face therapy in every case.”
Odd, then, that they would be advertising on the YouTube channel of a person who claims to have dissociative identity disorder—surely a “severe” mental illness whether one takes it at face value or assumes that it is some variant of a factitious disorder (a mental disorder in which a person acts as if he or she has a physical or mental illness when, in fact, he or she has consciously created the symptoms).
Dissociating for dollars?
Aside from clinical and safety considerations, though, it’s concerning to us that BetterHelp seems to be aggressively promoting itself to the YouTube DID and broader mental health community, offering sponsorships and free trial services in exchange for the opportunity to harvest clicks on their site.
This YouTuber describes her “terrible experience”:
Certainly, one bad apple doesn’t mean the entire company is spoilt, but we’re interested that BetterHelp is promoting itself via sites like AlexMax Han, who’s been attracting massive numbers of viewers, at least some of whom could turn out to be the next Becki Percy or Fiona Barnett.