June 16, 2011— -- While the jury is still out on whether just-resigned Rep. Anthony Weiner is addicted to sexting and other lewd Internet behavior, experts say his fall from grace may take a toll on his mental health, addiction or not.
Weiner, 46, announced his resignation today, 10 days after the news conference where he admitted to lying about sexual behavior with strangers, including a former porn actress, through social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Weiner's crotch shot heard 'round the world was the first of dozens of photos he shared with online strangers to surface. After he admitted to sending the initial photo at a news conference, political leaders across party lines pressured the congressman to resign.
"The extent to which this might impact an individual depends a great deal on their personal coping resources, personal support system and overall resilience in the context of their pre-event psychological make-up," said Dr. Martin Binks, clinical director and CEO of Binks Behavioral Health.
Binks said the theme of loss may play a part in Weiner's decline and possible recovery, especially if there is a loss of respect and reputation that may play a large role in his sense of self-worth.
"The fall from grace can be far more devastating if one's sense of self relies too heavily on these external factors," said Binks. "In other cases, where something that is seen as out of one's personal control causes personal and emotional devastation, we fall back on the love and support of those closest to us to be our staunchest allies. These close personal supports are the rock in our emotional foundation."
He noted that when that devastation alienates a person's support system, as could possibly have happened in Weiner's case with his wife Huma Abedin, he may lose that support, and the feelings of loss and grief can become amplified.
Dr. Kenneth Robbins, clinical professor of psychiatry, said that Weiner's desire and ability to change will have a lot to do with how much he wants to save his marriage.
"There are few people who feel good about this kind of private sex life," said Robbins. "It's exciting and arousing, but it's a struggle to feel good about a part of their sexuality that the culture doesn't approve of, so they make it a secret.
"It takes great effort and concentration to make significant change to ourselves," added Robbins. "For most people, the only way [to change] is because something causes them significant anxiety. So I guess the question is: How anxious does this make the various people involved, and is the anxiety enough that the person is willing to do the things necessary to change?"
For people who have a genetic susceptibility for depression, experts said an event like the Weiner scandal could push them toward dangerous depression symptoms, including sleep problems, lack of appetite, motivation and pessimism, feelings of hopelessness and ultimately suicidal thoughts.
"This sort of event will certainly test anyone's moxie," said Robbins. "If symptoms of depression remain consistent, where the person can't enjoy anything and they're sad all the time -- not sleeping or eating -- they need to get help, because this can become very dangerous."
But many public figures have weathered the outrage and returned to public life to prove that they made efforts to change. Robbins spoke generally about other politicians and celebrities who have been disgraced because of scandal, including Tiger Woods and Eliot Spitzer.
"In the Tiger Woods case, his marriage fell apart, and from the outside it was hard to see where he got his support," said Robbins. "It all seems to have had an effect on his career. He can't seem to get back in the groove and get his self-confidence back. One gets the impression that this has shaken him."
But for former governor Spitzer, who was caught in an extremely public prostitution scandal in 2008, many may argue the public has forgiven him. He now co-hosts CNN's political talk show, "In the Arena."
Weiner Resigns; What Now?
Experts said it is certainly possible for Weiner to get back into the public's good graces, but it'll take work.
"Our history is that people make mistakes," said Robbins. "I think that, in general, people are pretty forgiving. It usually takes a public apology and an appearance that someone has made changes and takes what happened seriously."
But Binks was more skeptical of the public's acceptance as he wondered whether the American public is losing patience with the stories like Weiner's, Arnold Schwarzenegger's, Spitzer's and Woods'.
"Society may be growing weary of selfish, uncaring acts of self-gratification without concern for the consequences and harm to others, [which] quickly become disorders in need of treatment," said Binks, "especially when the timing of such impassioned pleas for understanding seem only to come when all other evasive self-serving options are exhausted."
Only time will tell.