As a neuroscientist, I am fascinated by mental health, consciousness and perception, as well as the psychology behind human relationships.
Why the Internet Is Worried About Lia
Born on the 23rd of November, 1993, Lia Marie Johnson made her claim to fame through the Youtube-based series 'Kids React' at the age of 14. Becoming an internet sensation allowed her to build a base of followers and gain traction in the music and acting world. She starred in the Nickelodeon movie Terry the Tomboy in 2014, before going on to release musical hits including 'DNA', 'Cold Heart Killer' and 'Moonflower'.
After capriciously disappearing from YouTube in May 2018, Lia suddenly reappeared in May 2019, with a series of surreal and concerning Instagram live videos that clearly depicted her in an altered state of mind. While this instantly led her fans to speculate about her potential mental health and substance abuse issues, no real interventions were carried out until early January of this year when she self-recorded a particularly incoherent video featuring an older man.
Steven Wetherbee and Lia Marie Johnson
Believed to be her 65-year-old producer Steven Wetherbee, the man is seen grabbing and kissing her, before quizzing her about whether she is on Instagram and scolding her, barking:
“Are you on Instagram? No, you’re not – you can’t be on Instagram. Are you really on Instagram? Because that would be bad.”
He continues the pleading, adding "..it will affect my work. Please, turn it off.” He then takes her phone and ends the stream.
Naturally, the fact that the 23-year-old seemed to be trapped in a controlling dynamic with an older man taking advantage of her while intoxicated precipitated a frenzy of comments from fans. Lia responded in a panic, begging them not to send the police to her address, which only further worried her followers and had them conjecturing that she may be in an abusive relationship with her producer. Despite being a legal adult now, this situation reeks of grooming; Wetherby knew Lia when she was 15 years old and has been heavily involved in her career up to this point.
Paying Lia no mind, her fans alerted the police about her potential state of grave danger and they shortly arrived at her California address. Those who tuned into her next Instagram live witnessed her assuming an even more erratic stance than usual, stating that the cops had handcuffed her and insinuating that her fans had meddled where they were not wanted.
Incapable of seeing the logic behind the well-intended and necessary intervention, Lia dropped the news that she'd be disappearing 'out of everyone's lives, just as people wanted'.
Following the incident, Steven Wetherby Deleted His Online Presence
Does Lia Have Schizophrenia?
With its onset typically occurring during females' early 20s, schizophrenia is a complex and multifaceted psychiatric disorder known to give rise to what are categorized as 'positive', 'negative' and 'cognitive' symptoms. The first subcategory include psychosis, delusions, paranoia and a general detachment from reality that can, in extreme cases, progress to complete catatonia (withdrawal from reality).
Lia certainly seems psychotic in many of her live stream videos, with odd and eerie lines like "my phone is soft, like bread... I put it to my ear and feel the soft sourdough crunch..". As demonstrated by her anger at her fans' attempt to rescue her, she is also clearly not capable of seeing reality objectively and is subject to rapid-cycling mood alterations.
Occasionally spiritual and serene, Lia Marie Johnson breaks into profound soliloquies in some of her live streams including phrases like "you must taste true love.. really taste it" or "you must leave the computer alone.. goodbye, cellphone, goodbye". However, these introspective moods do not last for long, as she is easily angered in her interactive videos and quickly plunges in the direction of anxiety, anger and tears.
Lia has mentioned that she 'has schizophrenia, but that it's no big deal' in one of her Instagram live streams. However, since her state is so vulnerable and incoherent and she frequently rambles on about a plethora of things and people that do not exist, this cannot be deemed conclusive at all. It is very possible that she is on drugs and/or experiencing temporary drug-induced psychosis.
Psychedelic Drugs and Scattered Thoughts
In one video, Lia is asked what her favorite drug is and her face lights up; she responds that 'all she needs is a mushroom stem and a glass of red wine, and she can call it a night'. This type of talk reveals that she is definitely familiar with psychedelics, which is not unusual for a young, Hollywood-based star. However, the acute and longterm effects of drugs depend on a range of factors, with genetics being a key dictator of whether we are prone to suffering from longterm alterations to our perception.
It is very possible that Lia has triggered a latent type of psychosis through her use of stimulants and/or psychedelics. Weed alone is, unfortunately, strongly positively correlated with the onset of schizophrenia and other psychiatric phenomena that involve symptomology like Lia's.
Everyone will remember the case of the YouTuber Marina Joyce and her outlandish videos about her 'near death' experiences; behaving in a similarly odd and delusional way online, she sparked a surge of concern amongst her followers and the Internet at large. It turned out that she was not being held hostage, but was rather dealing with a severe case of drug-induced psychosis involving grandiosity and magical ideation.
Fortunately, Marina Joyce has since recovered for the most part. The brain is extremely plastic and capable of creating new connections to restabilize one's mental state, as long as the trigger is never touched again.
So, What Is Happening to Lia Marie Johnson?
Based on my background in neuroscience and experience with schizophrenia, I am hesitant to say that she suffers from the disorder; it seems more likely to me that Lia has fallen into drug use and is triggering temporary psychotic episodes. Her pupils are enormous in several of her live streams, and her rambling thoughts and creativity more closely mimic someone under the influence of a potent psychedelic (like LSD or psilocybin mushrooms) than someone in the early stages of schizophrenia.
However, this is only a conjecture; mental health disorders present themselves in different ways in different patients. While I am convinced that drugs are, unfortunately, involved in Lia's downward spiral, we cannot rule out the possibility that she is developing the stereotypic array of schizophrenia symptoms.
It must also be highlighted that Lia's emotional volatility may stem from unhealed psychological wounds, potentially from some form of childhood trauma. This would explain her psychosis-reminiscent 'retrogression' to a childlike state in some her live streams; trauma survivors frequently dissociate and take on the voice of someone much younger.
We can only hope that Lia accepts the help that she needs, and that she can find the strength to unlatch herself from the path that she is currently sailing down.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2020 Lucy