‘Kony’ filmmaker Jason Russell’s descent into mental illness

Two weeks ago, filmmaker Jason Russell was on top of the world. The author of the explosive “Kony 2012” video, a call to action against Ugandan war lord Joseph Kony, saw his grassroots passion project go viral on the Internet and become an international sensation. In a matter of days, tens of millions of viewers from all over the world watched his 30 minute part-autobiographical, part-documentary account of the horrors Kony has imposed upon Ugandan civilians, and especially children, bringing worldwide attention to the cause he most wanted to champion. Covered widely in press, the video has since been viewed more than 84 million times, making it one of the most popular videos in YouTube’s history.

But now, after a bizarre public act that got him arrested in San Diego last week, things have taken a stark turn. After Russell was taken into custody last week, San Diego police found it necessary to hospitalize the 33-year-old filmmaker whose behavior was strange enough to warrant medical attention. According to the Los Angeles Times, doctors diagnosed him with “brief reactive psychosis”, a seemingly temporary condition that prompted him to parade around public streets in the nude and possibly even masturbate before passerby.

The behavior hardly coheres with Russell’s image as a clean-cut social change agent, whose all-American, boy-next-door looks became the face of an online revolution. But, what at first seemed like an isolated episode of awkward, freakish behavior could be more serious. This morning, Russell’s wife Danica told reporters he may hospitalized for months. She also suggested his psychic break may have been the result of hurt feelings: “Because of how personal the film is, many of the attacks against it were also very personal and Jason took them very hard,” the family said in a statement.

I don’t know much about mental illness, except that it can occur in the most normal of people. My friend Emma Forrest, whom I’ve known for five years, has never struck me as unhinged. And yet, as she details in her memoir “Your Voice in My Head” (soon to become a movie helmed by “Harry Potter” director David Yates and starring Emma Watson) her body has long been a warm, temperate climate for madness.

Here’s a beautiful meditation from her book:

“Mania flows like a river approaching a waterfall. Depression is a stagnant lake. There are dead things floating and the water has the same blue-black tinge as your lips. You stay completely still because you’re so afraid of what is brushing your leg, (even though it could be nothing because your mind is already gone). That’s why you lay in your bed, (in the centre, with my dark blue sheets. The silver curtains are a nod to mania. They were something that seemed like a good idea at the time). My bras are hung on the wall behind my bed, crucified for my sins. I have thirty six bras. I counted. I hold my hands over my breasts in my days and weeks and months in bed, as if someone might steal them.”