Trying to get a handle on Tyson’s behavior — (The Baltmore Sun)

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The Baltmore Sun

June 07, 2002

By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield, SUN STAFF

Boxing: Opponents, analysts and the public continue to be perplexed by the bizarre antics of Mike Tyson, who takes on Lennox Lewis tomorrow night.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mike Tyson’s opponent, Lennox Lewis, has called him “a cartoon character.” To HBO boxing commentator Larry Merchant, Tyson is “a psychopath.”

Tyson has the world wondering what to truly make of him.

Tyson, 35, even has confused doctors, who have diagnosed and undiagnosed him with mental disorders and prescribed and unprescribed antidepressants and other drugs. I’m no psychologist, just concerned for the brother,” said one of his former trainers, Tommy Brooks. “Mike is a cat with nine lives, and he’s on 8 1/2 right now.”

Brooks left Tyson’s camp after his last fight, a knockout of Brian Nielsen in October 2001. But he’ll be watching, along with a sizable audience, when Tyson steps into the ring at the Pyramid tomorrow night to try to lift the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council heavyweight titles from Lewis.

Tyson has threatened to “smear [Lewis’] pompous brains all over the ring when I hit him.” In an angry tirade in Hawaii on April 30, Tyson told reporters he wanted to stomp on their children. In a fracas during a January news conference, Tyson bit Lewis’ leg.

Tyson has been incarcerated twice: A 1992 rape conviction in Indiana earned him three years in prison, and he spent three months in jail in 1999 for a road rage incident in Rockville, during which he kicked one man in the groin and punched another in the face.

“Mike Tyson’s actions don’t make him a sympathetic figure, but you have to be sympathetic to the fact that this is a person who clearly has mental problems and major issues that he hasn’t been able to confront,” said Lou DiBella, a former HBO executive who worked some of Tyson’s early fights.

“I don’t think anyone stops to ask themselves, `Would I want to be as crazy as Mike Tyson? Would I want to feel the pain that this guy apparently feels all of the time?’ ”

Tyson first was diagnosed as manic-depressive in 1988 by Dr. Henry L. McCurtis, director of psychiatry at Harlem Hospital in New York, shortly after Tyson experienced several violent episodes on a mid-September trip to Moscow. During the trip, Tyson had chased his then-wife, Robin Givens, her mother and a female aide through a hotel.

Upon returning to the United States, Tyson had a tearful group therapy session with Givens and her mother, Ruth Roper, and McCurtis. McCurtis prescribed a trial of lithium, used to treat mood swings and chemical imbalances in the brain.

However, within a few weeks, Tyson saw Dr. Abraham L. Halpern, clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College, who said Tyson was not manic-depressive and took him off the medication.

“Dr. McCurtis had apparently been given information by Mike Tyson’s mother-in-law at that time. I don’t think it was exactly accurate,” said Halpern, former president of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. “All I can tell you is that Dr. McCurtis did agree with my assessment.” 

McCurtis could not be reached to comment.

Halpern said he wouldn’t necessarily change his view of the man he examined 14 years ago, despite his public behavior.    “Who knows whether that was a promotional kind of approach, whether he’s been advised to make those comments or not?” said Halpern. “Without examining him again, it would be impossible to conclude that the diagnoses had changed.”

Contrasting diagnoses are not unusual, said Dr. Clemmont Von Tress, a psychologist at George Washington University.

“People misdiagnose all the time. People are human,” Von Tress said. “The damage comes when you misdiagnose and prescribe a powerful medicine to correct the behavior. If you put a label on people, like manic-depressive, and then start treating them with heavy medication to correct it, you can do more damage than good. You can make the person more violent than he already is.”

Tyson left a Tuesday news conference without talking to reporters and could not be reached. Shelly Finkel, the fighter’s adviser, wouldn’t respond to questions yesterday about Tyson’s medication.

Asked this week about medications, one of his trainers, Stacey McKinley, said: “Go ask him [Tyson]. I don’t know what he’s on. Go on and ask Mike Tyson, `What kind of medication you on, Mr. Tyson?’ He might want to just take you and throw you in the river.”

But Tyson reportedly has taken the antidepressants Zoloft and Prozac, lithium and Thorazine, used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia, at various times.  His dosage or lack of it could factor into his erratic behavior, said Dr. Peter Breggin of Bethesda, author of Anti-Depressant Fact Book and Your Drug May Be A Problem.

“I would want to know during the various incidents whether he was either taking the drugs, changing the dosage of them or stopping them,” said Breggin, founder and director of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology in Bethesda.