A Recent Resurgence of “Excited Delirium”?

The Washington Post recently featured a piece on the resurgence of “excited delirium” as cause of death for a number of individuals held in police custody. Amnesty International estimates that as many as 75 of more than 300 deaths in police custody between 2001 and 2008, following the use of a Taser, have been attributed to “excited delirium.”

Some trace the condition – which includes wild bursts of violent behaviour, insensitivity to pain, and is often associated with stimulant use –  as far back as the mid-nineteenth century. Despite these kinds of claims to historical standing, the condition is not among those in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders leading many to argue that the condition is being invoked as a means diverting attention away from the excessive use of force by police. As the Post describes,

Police, medical examiners and some doctors say the condition is real and frightening. Influenced by mental illness or the use of such stimulants as cocaine and methamphetamine, those in its grip often have extraordinary strength, are impervious to pain and act wildly or violently. Then, suddenly, some die.

Other medical experts and civil libertarians have questioned the existence of excited delirium and its frequent citation in cases that involve violent encounters between police and members of the public. Some say it is a cover for the use of excessive force by law enforcement.

The full piece can be read online here.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.