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Amber Heard suffered PTSD from 'intimate partner violence' following her relationship with Johnny Depp, expert testifies

May 4, 2022, 04:10 IST
Actor Amber Heard leaves the courtroom after the end of the day's proceedings during her ex-husband Johnny Depp's defamation trial against her, at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, U.S., April 27, 2022.REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool
  • Amber Heard had PTSD because of "intimate partner violence" from Johnny Depp, according to a forensic psychologist.
  • The psychologist, Dawn Hughes, testified she conducted a 29-hour evaluation with Heard.

A forensic psychologist who evaluated Amber Heard for 29 hours diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by Johnny Depp, the psychologist testified in the former couple's trial on Tuesday.

Dawn Hughes, a forensic psychologist, reviewed records related to Heard's mental health, had her complete lengthy questionnaires, and interviewed her over several appointments in person and over Zoom in 2019 and 2021. She concluded that Heard had PTSD — and that Depp was to blame.

"I diagnosed Ms. Heard with post-traumatic stress disorder," Hughes testified Tuesday afternoon. "The cause was the intimate partner violence from Mr. Depp."

Hughes diagnosed Heard following a lawsuit Depp filed in early 2019, accusing his ex-wife of defamation. In a December 2018 Washington Post op-ed, Heard described herself as a victim of domestic violence, which Depp said was a clear reference to his marriage with Heard, which ended in 2016 around the same time Heard filed for a restraining order.

Depp's lawsuit alleges that Heard was the true abuser in the relationship, physically attacking and verbally belittling him. In his trial, which began in April in Fairfax County, Virginia, he testified that Heard was quick to anger and frequently assaulted him.


Heard has denied the allegations and countersued, alleging Depp physically beat her on at least ten distinct occasions throughout their relationship.

Last week, Depp's attorneys presented testimony from Shannon Curry, another forensic psychologist, who evaluated Heard prior to the trial after Heard's lawyers told the judge overseeing the case about Hughes's PTSD diagnosis. Curry testified that Heard "severely exaggerated" her PTSD symptoms and instead diagnosed her with conditions associated with people who are prone to violence and making up stories where they cast themselves as victims.

Hughes disagreed with Curry's assessment, saying that Heard had a "normal" clinical profile, with no scores elevated enough to warrant a personality disorder diagnosis.

"If none of those scales are elevated, it becomes very difficult to make assumptions about a person's psychology," Hughes said.

Hughes said she did not diagnose Heard with a personality disorder and confirmed that neither did two of Heard's previous therapists.


Heard didn't fake her PTSD symptoms, Hughes testified

Hughes testified it was clear that Heard suffered from "intimate partner violence" characterized by coercive control, surveillance, and other factors. The tests Curry used were misapplied, she said, and Hughes used three tests that she testified had the expected scores for someone who had PTSD. She said the PTSD diagnosis is specifically tied to Heard's relationship with Depp.

"Ms. Heard's report of intimate partner violence, and the record I reviewed, is consistent with what we know about intimate partner violence," Hughes said.

Hughes said Heard suffered physical abuse from her father as a child, and grew up with parents who both had substance abuse issues, but Hughes said she was able to discern that the PTSD was tied to Depp and not to the childhood trauma. However, she said the childhood abuse is part of what contributed to Heard putting up with Depp's behavior.

"She learned she could love someone who hurts her, she knew that people who hurt her also can love her," Hughes said of Heard.

"She truly, truly believed she could fix Mr. Depp and rid him of his substance abuse problems, but that did not work," Hughes added.


Hughes also disagreed with Curry's assessment that Heard was intentionally exaggerating symptoms of PTSD.

She said she conducted three tests, which "suggests to me that Ms. Heard is not malingering" — or making up her symptoms for gain.

Hughes said that Curry's assessment that Heard exaggerated was flawed because the lone test Curry used is "very frequently elevated in people who have a high level of distress" and it's more important to use multiple tests and look at the combined results, as Hughes did.

The psychologist also pointed out that Curry's assessment that Heard scored in the 98th percentile of intentional exaggeration went against that test's instructions, which point out that percentile scores should not be used, because the test is used on people who have trauma and is therefore not a normal percentile curve.

Actor Johnny Depp attends his defamation trial against his ex-wife Amber Heard, at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, U.S., April 28, 2022.Michael Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS

Hughes further said that Heard "suffered from psychic trauma" due to statements made by Depp's representatives about her.


And she testified, in her opinion as an expert witness in the case, that "mutual abuse" was an oversimplified concept in relationships. Laurel Anderson, a marriage therapist for the celebrity couple, used the term to describe the relationship in earlier testimony for the trial.

"Mutual abuse isn't really a term of art that we use," Hughes said.

Hughes went into further detail about the kind of abuse both Heard and Depp committed, per her sessions with Heard.

She found that there was a "high degree of serious violence perpetrated by Mr. Depp towards Heard, and there was violence more on the mild level perpetrated by Ms. Heard toward Mr. Depp."

She said her tests showed that Depp engaged "in more severe acts" of psychological aggression towards Heard, who "engaged in some mild and severe acts" of psychological aggression herself.


Heard was subjected to "significantly higher and more severe" injuries than Mr. Depp, and she was subjected to sexual violence while Depp was not, Hughes testified.

Hughes said Depp pushed, shoved, slapped, and kicked Heard, and also sexually assaulted her including forcing her to perform sex acts and penetrating her with an alcohol bottle.

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