Last week, police in Fairfax County, Virginia, said a medical examiner determined that a 37 year old mentally-ill black woman named Natasha McKenna died of ‘excited delirium’ in February after being tased and restrained by six armored sheriff’s deputies.
I had never heard of excited delirium before, so I dug into it a little bit. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) maintains a resource known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM. The DSM contains a diagnostic classification list that details all the diagnoses recognized by the APA. It’s a pretty big book that details many, many mental disorders and diagnoses. Delirium is a classified diagnosis, but excited delirium is not.
That’s because there is significant and decades-old debate in the medical and civil liberties communities over whether excited delirium is real or if it’s a scapegoat for police brutality. Back in 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported that in-custody deaths involving excited delirium diagnoses were thought to be on the rise: