Stanley Thornton, Jr. is a 30-year-old man who spends a good deal of his time acting like a baby. Mr. Thornton runs the website www.bedwettingabdl.com. ABDL stands for "Adult Baby Diaper Lover." He enjoys activities like being diapered, spoon-fed, and coddled. He sucks on a pacifier and plays in a playpen.
After Mr. Thornton appeared on the National Geographic television program "Taboo" and was pictured building adult baby furniture—a highchair, in this case—he incurred the wrath of Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Senator Coburn, who is a physician, questioned the wisdom of providing social security disability payments to a man who prefers to live his life as a baby and who—despite his contentions that he is unable to work, and despite repeated confirmation of this by the Social Security Administration—has been able to shop for lumber, build large-scale “baby” furniture, drive a vehicle, maintain a long-term relationship (with a recently-deceased female friend who diapered him and bottle fed him) and operate a website.
Mr. Thornton recently threatened to commit suicide if his social security disability payments were suspended. They were not.
I don’t know Mr. Thornton and have never examined him, but he is clearly a very determined man, in some very specific ways.
Mr. Thornton explains on his website that surviving childhood abuse contributed to his extraordinary need for comfort and security now—feelings he obtains by donning a onesy and a diaper and climbing into his crib or crawling on the floor.
Seen in one way, Mr. Thornton decision to act like a baby is actually saving American taxpayers money. He has apparently stumbled on a way to comfort himself that costs us a lot less than it would to repeatedly hospitalize him on psychiatric units, which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
He apparently isn’t being triaged to emergency rooms with panic attacks or thoughts of suicide on a weekly basis.
He doesn’t report overdosing repeatedly and being treated in intensive care units at $50,000 a pop.
He reportedly receives a little less than $900 a month from the federal government and pretends to be an infant.
The sad truth is that it's actually cheaper and more convenient to maintain Mr. Thornton in his pathological state than to cure him. And that’s the real problem here.
Mr. Thornton has been twice victimized: First, apparently, by family members and others who physically and psychologically abused him as a child and, then, by a mental health care system that very, very often opts out of doing real battle with psychopathology.
It’s easier to label Mr. Thornton with one or two or three diagnoses from the ever-revised and re-revised and re-re-revised "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," file paperwork to get him enough money to stay home and stay out of everyone’s hair and maybe medicate him with one or two or three prescriptions for anxiety (although I have no idea if Mr. Thornton takes medication of any kind).
Welcome to the state of state-funded psychiatry in 2011, rubber-stamped by the American Psychiatric Association.
Just so you know, there’s one other dirty little secret in the social security disability diaper: Mr. Thornton and others social security disability recipients don’t just qualify for payments beginning when they apply for benefits. No, their payments can be retroactive for a full year, if their symptoms began that long ago. So thousands (or more) individuals receive lump-sum checks for $10,000. Many go on buying sprees at jewelry stores or even purchase street drugs from dealers.
Now, if you want to know what real psychiatry looks like, I’ll share a memory with you of one of my mentors, the late and great psychiatrist Theodore Nadelson. Dr. Nadelson lives on in the memories of, literally, hundreds of psychiatrists like me who listened to him and learned from him. I’ll change some of the details to completely maintain the anonymity of the patient involved in my story.
When I was an intern, Dr. Nadelson brought me with him to visit a patient on a locked psychiatry unit. A man there in his thirties, whom I’ll call Frank, insisted he would need to live on the unit forever. He’d already been there for three months, and it was his eleventh admission. He insisted that he needed the nurses to comfort him and that he would take his life were he ever discharged.
Dr. Nadelson, who had reviewed Frank’s psychiatric history extensively and interviewed him extensively several times, listened intently to every word Frank said. Then he looked him directly in the eyes. “You’re being discharged today,” he said.
“I told you, I’ll kill myself if you make me leave,” Frank protested.
“That may be,” Dr. Nadelson said. “And that would injure me deeply. I would be truly saddened. I mean that, from the bottom of my heart.” He paused, and you could tell in his eyes that he did mean it. “But, ultimately, Frank,” he said, “it has to be your decision. You’re a man, like I am.” He put a hand on Frank’s shoulder. “You can find the strength to live like one. I know you can.”
When we left the room and were walking down the hallway, I asked Dr. Nadelson if he really intended to discharge the patient, despite the man’s threat to take his own life.
“Yes,” he told me. “He’ll leave today, with security taking him to the exit, if need be.”
“But what if he kills himself?” I asked.
Nadelson glanced at me. “What makes you think he isn’t killing himself sitting in that room and avoiding his whole life?”
See, Ted Nadelson was a real psychiatrist. He knew what it was to take a real risk and a real look into darkness, in order to restore a man’s soul. He knew it took courage and commitment and compassion, in equal measure. He wasn’t a doctor content to label and medicate and push disability paperwork through this sorry system.
I miss him. I miss what he represented. And I know he would do a whole lot more for Stanley Thornton than write him a prescription, get him a government check and buy him a box of Pampers.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.