We see a growing number of individuals who visit our Web site and write us e-mail, as well as participate in mental health chats, that seem to have multiple personality disorder (MPD), or the disorder’s newest name, dissociative identity disorder (DID). People with DID seem to be in many support rooms found online for mental health support. We even host a popular discussion forum for MPD/DID here on Mental Health Net.
So what’s this all about? Is DID really that prevalent online?? Does the online world somehow draw more people with DID to it? Is DID being diagnosed more often because of more accurate tests? What’s going on here??
From our experiences, it seems clear that a little bit of everything is involved in the greater numbers of people who suffer from this disorder showing up online. First is the greater knowledge and education amongst behavioral healthcare professionals about this disorder. If they know what to look for, which they are better trained to do more now than ever, they are more likely to be able to accurately diagnose MPD/DID in individuals. This has been accomplished by greater research in this area in recent years as well as more information being trickled down to the clinicians who actually do most of the diagnosing and therapy of individuals with this disorder.
In addition to greater numbers of individuals being diagnosed with this disorder, many more of those people who get the diagnosis are coming online to find out more information and support for their problem. While there is still debate about how prevalent MPD/DID is within the general population, finding reliable and accurate epidemiological information about the disorder can often be difficult, if not downright impossible. Much of this is due to the political debate which has surrounded the diagnosis of MPD/DID in the past few years (Coons, 1989). Many misconceptions still exist and are even perpetrated by some mental health professionals. So information found online may fill some people’s needs with this disorder.
But because it is a rare disorder, it also means there won’t be any support groups available in their community for this problem. Like rare medical conditions and the popularity support groups for those have enjoyed online, so too are MPD/DID groups popular online. People with this disorder have found one another and can discuss issues that only other people with DID/MPD can understand and sympathize with.
Last, the symptoms of DID/MPD are such that there is often times an accompanying (and justified) social fear, out of concern of the ramifications of switching personalities when in the company of others (whether at work, at home, at a party, etc.). This fear is not nearly as powerful or present when in an online chat room or discussion forum. This is probably because such forums are devoid of many of the social cues and nonverbal communications which may encourage an emerging personality to present him or herself. It may be easier, in fact, for someone who suffers from MPD/DID to talk to others in such a forum because of the ability to remain present in a singular personality.
There is no clear reason why so many people seem to have this disorder in online chat rooms. It is likely a combination of factors which have resulted in this perception. This should be no need or cause for alarm, since most individuals who have DID/MPD we’ve spoken to have overwhelmingly given high marks to the experiences they’ve had in online support rooms and forums. As more and more people come online, we will expect to find more rare mental disorders represented, especially those which have a social component which may be helped through an online modality of communications.