HT Exclusive: Was Richard Gadd’s stalker mentally ill? UK psychiatrist analyses Baby Reindeer’s ‘delusional’ Martha | Web Series - Hindustan Times
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HT Exclusive: Was Richard Gadd’s stalker mentally ill? UK psychiatrist analyses Baby Reindeer’s ‘delusional’ Martha

BySumanti Sen
May 18, 2024 01:00 PM IST

HindustanTimes.com spoke to Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist Sohom Das, who weighed in on Martha Scott's (or Richard Gadd's stalker's) character.

If you have watched British dark comedy drama-thriller Baby Reindeer, it is possible that you have been looking over your shoulder in dark alleyways. You may be thinking twice before sharing your email ID with strangers and keeping your phone number safe. You may be terrified of offering anyone a glass of drink out of kindness because what if the next morning you wake up and find a message that ends with these haunting words: “Sent from my iPhone”!

Martha Scott’s character has prompted all the viewers to ask a common question: is she just an abuser or a victim too? (Netflix screenshots)
Martha Scott’s character has prompted all the viewers to ask a common question: is she just an abuser or a victim too? (Netflix screenshots)

Martha Scott’s character has prompted all the viewers to ask a common question: is she just an abuser or a victim too? Considering that the story is true and the real stalker exists, HindustanTimes.com spoke to Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist Sohom Das, who weighed in on the character and her personality traits. Das, who lives and works in London, treats and rehabilitates criminals who are mentally disordered. He provides evidence to criminal trials about defendants with various mental illnesses.

Richard Gadd, who created and starred in the Netflix drama, has played a fictionalised version of himself in the show. He has claimed that it is a true story and that he has indeed been a victim of a stalking. 

The story revolves around struggling comedian Donny Dunn (Gadd), who befriends a lawyer named Martha Scott, played by actress Jessica Gunning, when she visits the bar he was working at. He offers her a free drink out of kindness, prompting an everlasting nightmare. Martha begins to relentlessly stalk Donny, turn up at his work and home, and spend days and nights outside his house. 

Is Martha Scott just an abuser or a victim too?

“There is some reference near the end of the series that Martha grew up in a chaotic household. So, it appears that she was a victim in childhood. Tragically, this pattern is far too familiar for me, within my line of work. There is very often some kind of developmental trauma,” said Das, whose YouTube channel “explores the crossroads of mental illness and offending.”.

“However, speaking of the dynamics between Martha and Donny, she is clearly the aggressor, and not the victim, even though she was potentially encouraged at times,” he added.

Richard Gadd (Donny Dunn) and Jessica Gunning (Martha Scott) in Baby Reindeer (Netflix screenshot)
Richard Gadd (Donny Dunn) and Jessica Gunning (Martha Scott) in Baby Reindeer (Netflix screenshot)

Gadd was fairly self-reflective in the drama, admitting despite his terrifying stalking experience that he, at times, had led Martha on. So was Donny just a victim of stalking or was he, in any way, responsible for the situation getting worse?

Das said, “I don’t think those two categories are mutually exclusive. Gadd’s character, Donny, was both. He was undoubtedly the victim of stalking, but he occasionally enticed Martha. This seemingly was related to sympathy for her and also to his own insecurities, fragile ego and need for admiration. Martha’s character seemed delusional and obsessive, so even the slightest encouragement was hugely exaggerated in her mind.”

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Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist Sohom Das weighed in on Martha Scott's character and her personality traits (Sohom Das/Facebook)
Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist Sohom Das weighed in on Martha Scott's character and her personality traits (Sohom Das/Facebook)

Did Martha Scott battle any mental illness?

Das analysed Martha’s (or Gadd’s stalker’s) character and asserted that we must “separate errant personality traits from actual mental illness.” 

“Martha clearly was obsessive, narcissistic, deceptive, fanatical and a fantasist. She was also extremely stubborn and obstinate, not taking no for an answer. Additionally, she was vindictive when she did not get her own way,” Das said.

“In my opinion, Martha very likely had some kind of personality disorder - i.e. there is something wrong with her inherent disposition, which bleeds into a skewed perspective of the world and herself. However, this is different from an actual mental illness, which is a chemically imbalanced change from one's normal baseline mental state,” he continued.

Jessica Gunning (Martha Scott) in Baby Reindeer (Netflix screenshot)
Jessica Gunning (Martha Scott) in Baby Reindeer (Netflix screenshot)

Das added, “It is possible that Martha additionally had a degree of depression. In my opinion, she may have had a delusional disorder as well; i.e. she fully believed that she was in a relationship with Donny and was psychologically unwilling and unable to absorb any evidence to the contrary.”

Struggles of sexual assault victims

Donny revealed in the series that he was sexually assaulted by an older man. This, too, is based on Gadd’s own experience and we don't know whether it was fictionalised. Later in life, he said he pitied Martha and hesitated to report her to the police because he never reported the man who assaulted him, and he thought the man was a bigger monster.

Das opened up on whether it is common for survivors of sexual assault to find it difficult to navigate through life and make important decisions. “I have assessed several victims. As well as developing mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, there are often chronic issues with their behaviours and interactions. This can range from being promiscuous, using alcohol and drugs, being overprotective of their children, mistrusting other people and struggling to make daily decisions because of high levels of self-doubt and low levels of self-esteem,” he said.

What mental health issues do stalkers have?

Das also explained whether all stalkers suffer from mental health issues. “Most stalkers have specific hazardous personality traits (similar to Martha), and some white cross the threshold for an actual personality disorder,” he said.

He added, “However, only a very small proportion will have a literal diagnosable and treatable mental illness. When this does happen, it is often Erotomania (also known as De Clérambault's Syndrome). This is a mental health condition where someone has a fixed and false belief that another person, usually of higher social status or someone they don't know well, is intensely in love with them. This belief is not based on reality and persists despite evidence to the contrary. The person with erotomania may misinterpret everyday events as signs of love from the other person. The exact cause of erotomania is unknown, but it's thought to be linked to a combination of factors, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.”

Take a look at Das’ video on 5 myths about stalkers:

We commonly hear about women being stalked. Das stressed the same fact, claiming that “women are disproportionately affected.” “However, we also have to consider that men may be less likely to report stalking, due to social stigma or not recognising it as a crime. We see these factors at play in Baby Reindeer, delaying Donny in reporting his stalker to the police,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, despite Gadd’s efforts to keep his stalker’s identity concealed, internet sleuths tracked down a woman named Fiona Harvey, who has now admitted to being the woman Gadd portrayed as his stalker. However, appearing on an interview with English broadcaster Piers Morgan, she dismissed the stalking claims, accusing both Gadd and Netflix of lying.

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