On Kissing Charlie Sheen. Will We Transmit Ignorance?

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2015 Nancy Virden

photo-24807381-gossiping-coupleThis week on the Today Show, actor and famously addicted Charlie Sheen announced he is HIV positive. HIV is the virus that may, but not always, lead to AIDS. 

Mr. Sheen has had a widely publicized sex life and party, party, party attitude. His drug and alcohol addictions have landed him in and out of rehabs and into some very hot messes.

Now Jenny McCarthy, one of Sheen’s former co-workers and pretend love interest, is upset he did not tell her about his HIV status. She strongly implies that his choice to remain silent put her at risk through kissing in romantic scenes.  Public responses to her statements mock her assumed ignorance on how HIV is transmitted, most claiming a kiss will never pass the disease from one person to another.

Such is the nature of stigma.  It annoys me when I see hordes of people parroting one or two loudmouthed gossipers, so I looked up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention HIV fact sheet to learn if McCarthy has reason for concern.

Turns out, there is one way to transmit HIV through a kiss although it is very rare to do so. If the kiss is “deep open-mouth” and blood is exchanged, infection* is possibile. While the operative words “if” and “possible” do not remove chance, they also do not command expectation.

HIV has long been a topic of misunderstanding and irrational fear. Maybe McCarthy did not know what she was talking about, or maybe all her mockers do not know the facts. I’ve seen stigma though, and how fast it can spread.

Sheen’s history of drug, sex, and alcohol addictions has led to a few educated guesses about his condition; bipolar disorder has received the most press.

As one with unipolar disorder, I agree wholeheartedly with the following summation: “When you’re in the depths of a Mood Disorder, you swirl in an ocean of mental, physical and  spiritual chaos. It’s only when you reach the safety of the shore that you realize just how  dangerously ill you were.” – Deborah Serani, Psy.D **

Stigma continues to dismiss facts and the accounts of countless others like me. People watch Sheen’s chaotic life and judge what they think they see. Some have observed my experiences with major depression and attempted suicide and accused me of spiritual failure, lack of integrity, loss of faith, dismissal of truth, and weakness.

Dr. Serani gives us her expert word of warning. “Now as a psychologist, I know it’s important not to oversimplify mental illness, especially when one glimpses it through mass media. Psychiatric illnesses are complex issues…we need to be mindful that Mr. Sheen is a human being first, and should not be used as an object for mocking, moral outrage or stigma.”

It’s disturbing when people are written off because outsiders have not bothered to seek the facts. Ignorance creates stigma, while asking questions fuels understanding and truth. Do those things matter to us more than gossip and rumors? In our hands is the internet where facts can be found in scholarly journals, testimonials, research-based studies, and best of all, books.

We can easily exercise our right to knowledge and pass on what we have learned. 


****************Comments are always welcome.  NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.


**Deborah Serani Psy.D.Two Takes on Depression :Charlie Sheen: Wild Boy, Troubled Man,  Posted Feb 28,             2011 Psychology Today

-picture from qualitystockphotos.com


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