Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl exhibited symptoms of a mental condition known as schizotypal personality disorder at the time that he chose to walk away from his platoon’s base in Afghanistan in 2009 and was subsequently captured, according to a new episode of the podcast “Serial” released Friday.
It marks the first time that a specific diagnosis for Bergdahl has been reported for the period in which he left his platoon’s base alone and without a gun just before midnight June 29, 2009. Bergdahl now faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. After walking away, he was held in brutal captivity for the next five years in Pakistan by militants affiliated with the Taliban in a case that has become one of the most notorious of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
The new report highlights how much Bergdahl’s mental condition could play a role in his court-martial, which is scheduled for August at Fort Bragg, N.C. He was diagnosed last year by an independent Army forensics psychiatrist, Christopher Lang, who met with him after Bergdahl’s defense team requested what is commonly called a “sanity board” in May, the podcast reported.
The soldier’s civilian attorney, Eugene Fidell, said in a preliminary hearing for his case in September that the board concluded Bergdahl was suffering from a “severe mental disease or defect,” but Fidell did not specify what it was. Fidell declined Friday to comment on the “Serial” episode and what it reported, but said that Bergdahl’s condition at the time of the incident is “highly pertinent” to his case.
The disorder is sometimes considered a variant of schizophrenia, according to the Mayo Clinic. But there are differences between the disorders, the clinic adds.
“While people with schizotypal personalities may experience brief psychotic episodes with delusions or hallucinations, they are not as frequent, prolonged or intense as in schizophrenia,” the clinic’s website said. “Another key distinction between schizotypal personality disorder and schizophrenia is that people with the personality disorder usually can be made aware of the difference between their distorted ideas and reality. Those with schizophrenia generally can’t be swayed away from their delusions.”
Schizotypal people are considered at increased risk of temporary psychotic episodes, usually in response to stress. They also have increased risks of major depression, problems interacting at work, school and in social situations, anxiety disorders and — in rare cases — schizophrenia itself, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In September, a senior officer who spent hours interviewing Bergdahl, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, testified that he found the soldier “unrealistically idealistic” and that his childhood living at the “edge of the grid” in Idaho hurt his ability to relate to other people. As a result, Dahl said, Bergdahl was an extremely harsh judge of character and saw things in people that other people did not.
“I think he absolutely believed that the things he perceived were absolutely true,” Dahl added.
Bergdahl enlisted in the Army in 2008 at a time when the service was under pressure to find new recruits while fighting wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was able to join with a medical waiver despite having washed out of the Coast Guard’s due to what the sea service called a failure to adjust.