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Actor Todd LaTourrette's Lie About Hand Amputation Tells a Hard Truth About Mental Health Stigma

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

On Monday, actor Todd LaTourrette — known for roles on TV shows like “Better Call Saul” and “Longmire” — revealed to KOB-4 that he hasn’t been honest about how he lost his hand, which at times he implied was an injury sustained as a war veteran. LaTourrette amputated his own hand during a bipolar disorder psychotic mixed episode 17 years ago in the midst of coming to terms with his mental health diagnosis. Unlike some media accounts, which suggest LaTourrette cut off his arm to boost his career, LaTourrette said he lied because mental health stigma prevented him from coming forward sooner.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

“My lie has nothing to do with being bipolar. The two do not go [together], they are separate events. I did not cut my hand off for my career,” LaTourrette told The Mighty. He added he didn’t disclose the real reason he lost his hand because, “Honestly, shame. I couldn’t. I couldn’t fathom that I had done that to my beautiful, complete frame that God had intended to remain that way.”

LaTourrette experienced his first hypomanic episode at age 19. Typically characterized by an elevated mood and more energy than usual, he and his parents chalked this episode up to just being a “dramatic actor.” However, LaTourrette continued to experience bipolar episodes. He enrolled in the U.S. Army, following in the footsteps of his veteran father, but the extreme physical and mental stress of training exacerbated his symptoms and he was released.

His bipolar disorder continued to go undiagnosed until 2001. About three weeks after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, LaTourrette’s mental health declined and he made a serious suicide attempt. He was subsequently hospitalized for two weeks, given the diagnosis of bipolar I disorder and prescribed seven medications.

Within two months of being released from the hospital, LaTourrette stopped taking all of his medications at the same time. What followed was the mixed psychotic episode that caused him to amputate his own hand because he believed his hands were the source of trouble.

“I felt my hands were the enemy,” LaTourrette said. “I had cut myself for 10 years…and taken meds with my hands to cause overdoses. I felt my hands were the problem.”

When LaTourrette was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 31, more than a decade after his first symptoms, it was hard for him to process his mental illness. As a result, he stopped taking his medications and from there, “It happened quick.”

“I wasn’t given a whole lot of time to educate myself on bipolar,” LaTourrette said. “It took me losing my right hand in the manner I did to say, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty severely mentally challenged.’ Mental illness is a tough one but there’s no end-all cure. We all have to deal with it.”

For those prescribed psychiatric medications, stopping all of them at the same time can sometimes cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms. This can include a relapse of mental illness such as the mixed episode LaTourrette experienced. In bipolar disorder, a mixed episode — a combination of depressive and manic states — can be particularly dangerous.

“Mixed depression is a little bit more lethal in that people are agitated and activated. They’ve got some energy but they’ve got the negative depressive thoughts,” Terence A. Ketter, MD, chief of Stanford University School of Medicine’s Bipolar Disorders Clinic, told The Mighty. Despite the danger of such an episode, in Ketter’s experience, it’s “exceedingly rare” for people to carry out extreme actions like amputations.

However, 50 percent of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at some point in their lives, and 20 percent will die by suicide. It’s more common for people to make a suicide attempt during a mixed episode or a depressive episode. Typically there are warning signs before a suicide attempt or serious acts of self-harm.

“If you notice a behavior [change] and the person’s doing different things than usual and they’ve got very negative thoughts and they’re thinking of death and things like that,” Ketter said, “those are some of the hallmarks of a mixed or depressive episode.”

While LaTourrette may have come to terms with the impact of bipolar disorder on his life and the need to take his illness seriously, he was well aware the general public wouldn’t be so understanding, even if he had told the truth from the beginning. LaTourrette said: 

The stigma of mental illness is still very prevalent. If I had told anybody  first of all I couldn’t because I couldn’t utter the words because I couldn’t believe it had happened. I couldn’t tell anybody because I knew they would say, ‘He’s crazy. He’s just a crazy person.’ And still a lot of people just think I’m crazy. Well little do they know there’s a story behind it. Many years behind the action.

The journey for LaTourrette to get to a healthy place has taken years. Since 2001, LaTourrette said he’s been “very diligent to seek out help” from his psychiatrist though the line to recovery hasn’t been linear. At times he would stop and restart his medications and he has made four suicide attempts, which he wrote about in his 2016 memoir, “Consumed.” For LaTourrette, the journey included accepting that mental illness often needs to be managed over a lifetime — there isn’t a quick fix.

“Everybody knows we stop our meds. We don’t want to give up power. We don’t want to give up anything out of our very fragile state in the first place,” LaTourrette said. “I was looking for a cure. I was thinking it would just go away and I would be done and I would be OK and could go on with my life.”

LaTourrette’s recent decision to come forward now about how he really lost his hand comes from a place of wanting to battle mental health stigma. It will likely cost his career and public perception, but it’s a powerful reminder that there’s still work to be done on how society talks about mental illness and the difficult process of recovery.

“It is a tenacious, tenacious process,” LaTourrette added. “Me and my doc went through about eight years of trying to find the right combination [of medications] that would help me want to get out of bed….Those meds make it possible for me to look in the mirror in the morning and say, Something wonderful might happen today.”

Header imagine via IMDb.

Originally published: November 2, 2018
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