Actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have been in the spotlight for weeks as their defamation trial plays out in a Virginia courtroom. Depp sued Heard for defamation after she accused him of physical and emotional abuse in an op-ed in The Washington Post in 2019, which Depp claims cost him his role in the highly successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Depp’s lawyers responded by saying her allegations of abuse were a “hoax.” Both actors have accused each other of abuse throughout the trial, spurring debate over who is the abuser and who is the victim.
Several mental health experts and providers have testified as well. Psychologist Laurel Anderson, PhD described their relationship as “mutual abuse” on day three of the trial and that both parties were guilty of exhibiting unhealthy behavior. She said that Heard’s actions “triggered” abusive behavior on Depp’s part, and that she regularly started fights to “keep him with her because abandonment and having him leave was her worst nightmare.”
Heard called Anderson in 2015 and told her that Depp left bruises on her face. During a later session with Depp, the actor told Anderson that, “Amber gave as good as she got,” according to testimony. Anderson also stated that Heard “fought as hard as he did and he tried to deescalate far more than I think she did.”
Heard’s former nurse Erin Falati also testified on the notes she kept while treating the actress in 2014. She said that she never saw bruises on Heard’s face and that Head had “difficulty with jealousy issues and anxiety around fiancé’s fame and ability to interact with females often.”
In another note, Falati wrote that Heard was “irritable, loud and angry” and that she was “screaming at times and appears agitated.” She also testified that Heard suffered from “substance abuse including an addiction to cocaine and liquor” but that at that time, she had been off cocaine for a “couple of years.”
Depp’s legal team also had psychologist Dr. Shannon Curry testify, who said that Heard was exhibiting signs in line with borderline personality disorder (BPD). She described Heard as “self-righteous”, “judgmental” and angry and that the actress was flitting between “princess and victim.”
Their testimony sparked outrage and debate among many healthcare professionals.
Several professionals including those that treat BPD said Curry’s testimony was designed to discredit Heard and stigmatize her mental illness. Research shows a strong correlation between trauma and BPD, and experts say Curry’s testimony missed the mark.
“Personality disorders are unique from other diagnoses because they are lifelong,” said Nicole Prause, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles specializing in the impact of sexual violence and trauma. “If the BPD diagnosis is accurate, then Heard likely suffered from these issues throughout her life and not in response to later adulthood trauma.”
“Most women diagnosed with BPD are not physically abusive,” Prause added. “However, women arrested for domestic violence do have a higher incidence of borderline personality disorder. BPD is known for difficulty in romantic relationships, which could lead a person with BPD to choose inappropriate partners (e.g., abusive partners), or to become dysregulated and abusive themselves.”
Providers also took issue with the idea of “mutual abuse” because it fails to illustrate the power dynamics of some relationships.
“The foundation of intimate partner violence is power and control, [which] drives abusive relationships through patterns and escalation,” said Melody Gross, founder of Courageous SHIFT, a domestic violence coaching company in Charlotte, NC. “The concept of mutual abuse does not and cannot exist.”
“There are times when the person experiencing abuse may respond in an abusive way due to the need for safety, control, or even out of fear. Those responses are likely as the relationship progresses. This is what’s called reactive abuse.”
Many people have also rushed to Depp’s defense on social media.
“Depp has not spoken publicly about a single word of any of this for years, until he was on the stand in court. How else does the truth come out? He is trying to clear his name and become employable in Hollywood again,” wrote one nurse. “When defamation and domestic abuse charges are filed, details have to be shared so the jury can decide. I mean, it’s not like Depp went on a late night talk show and dove into these details.”
“She is mentally ill and needs treatment, and he needs therapy for PTSD. Glad he has been clean and sober for years now, just wish she didn’t break him the way she did,” wrote another.
“This case is important because with all the social movements happening that are shifting our views inside the courtroom, this is still an injustice that cannot go unreconciled. Amber Heard abused a movement that came about to support women when we weren’t allowed to speak up before. And she cannot be allowed to get away with that,” another nurse added.
Regardless of who is to blame, the trial is unveiling private matters that usually play out behind closed doors.
“Two addicts/alcoholics doling out mutual abuse on each other. They both need rehab & therapy,” wrote another nurse.
“When we determine who is the victim or perpetrator through the lens of misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and other biases, we are doing a disservice to actual victims,” Gross added.
“We assume men can’t be victims. We think men with ‘power and fame’ can’t be victims. We believe women can’t be perpetrators of violence. We say fighting in same-sex relationships is normal. When speaking about intimate partner violence, these assumptions are harmful to survivors.”