Bowe Bergdahl’s Schizotypal Personality Disorder Diagnosis May Explain His Desertion
The story of Bowe Bergdahl, the Army Sgt. Captured and held by the Taliban for almost five years, has captured the attention of America for years, largely because there are still so many questions. However, the latest chapter may provide answers as to how the young serviceman wound up leaving his base and being held captive and tortured for years.
Documents released this week in relation to the court martial case against Bergdahl show he has suffered from a condition known as schizotypal personality disorder since before his time in Afghanistan. He was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from his time as a prisoner of the Taliban.
According to the U.S. Army’s Sanity Board Evaluation, Bergdahl has experienced schizotypal personality disorder since before joining the Army. SPD likely contributed to Bergdahl being discharged from the United States Coast Guard in 2006, two years before he enlisted in the Army. His legal team also believes SPD played a role in Bowe Bergdahl’s decision to leave his Afghanistan command base, which he describes as an act of protest against his command.
In the court transcripts, Bergdahl says command decisions made by leadership were unnecessarily putting the lives of fellow soldiers at risk, and he hoped to draw attention to this issue with his disappearance from base.
While it is possible this failure of command was an issue, his fellow soldiers don’t corroborate that idea. Instead, it is likely Bowe’s distrust of leadership and inability to understand their actions were related to schizotypal personality disorder.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, one of the defining characteristics of SPD is a difficulty forming relationships with others, a distrust of authority, or an inability to understand social cues. While SPD is different from schizophrenia in that people with SPD are not disconnected from reality, they may have intense but odd beliefs of behaviors.
In particular, people with SPD tend to have unusual fears or preoccupations, such as fear of being monitored by government agencies or that authorities are out to get them.
These symptoms, intensified by the stress of service in a war zone could have influenced Bergdahl’s decisions to leave the base and may explain how he misjudged the situation so gravely.
Bergdahl also says his upbringing may have influenced his decision-making. “Growing up the way I grew up, I also lacked the understanding of how to move through society,” Bergdahl said during his interview with Army investigator Maj. General Kenneth Dahl.
So what does this mean for Bergdahl? While he is currently facing court martial charges which could include a sentence of life imprisonment, Maj. General Dahl recommends that Bergdahl is given a misdemeanor desertion charge instead.
Hopefully, the news will help bring attention to the mental health risks that face members of the military in active duty and prompt the military to be more proactive in screening and intervention for service members with mental illness to prevent another situation like this from occurring.