Tuesday, March 23, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
A state psychiatrist who has posted 600 videos online under the persona “Doctor of Mind” — some in his underwear, others talking glibly about suicide, wrist slashing and mind-altering drugs — is having his moonlighting activities examined by the Nevada Division of Health and Developmental Services, officials said Monday.
Dr. Mark Viner, a board certified senior psychiatrist who works for Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, has posted the Doctor of Mind clips on the sites medclip.com and YouTube. Viner appears in the videos, which are apparently intended to be funny, with his hair mussed like a mad scientist’s, speaking in affected, slurred and spaced out tones about psychiatric drug recommendations and mental health problems.
The state’s review of Viner’s Internet performances may come down to where free speech meets public perception for a doctor who works for the state. And mental health professionals and legislators who have seen the videos think Viner needs to have his head examined.
Viner told the Sun in an interview that he’s “not conventional” and considers himself an actor, using the videos to educate the public about psychiatry and mental illness.
“I’m trying to present a topic in a way people will watch and learn,” he said. “I’m trying to be provocative, unconventional. It’s comic, or quirky. I wouldn’t say bizarre. I think it’s what you have to do to get attention.”
Viner’s videos have been viewed 1.14 million times, his YouTube channel has more than 250,000 viewings and he has more than 2,000 regular subscribers. Almost all the feedback is positive, he said.
The state pays Viner an annual salary of $176,902. State officials have not contacted him about the videos or any pending personnel action, he said. As a side business, he sells T-shirts, mugs and CDs, and eventually wants to have a professionally produced show for television, radio and the Internet.
Viner also sees patients in his private practice, and specializes in medications and suicide prevention.
Viner says he turns off the Doctor of Mind persona when he’s seeing patients or giving presentations. He said he never mentions Nevada in his videos, so he didn’t think they could be a reflection on the state’s mental health system.
“I was born and raised in Hollywood. Part of me likes acting, comedy,” he said.
The state has known about the videos since mid-2009, a spokesman for Health and Developmental Services said, but decided to review them this past week after a citizen complained to legislators and state officials.
Some mental health professionals find Doctor of Mind totally inappropriate. Dr. Ole Thienhaus, a psychiatrist and dean of the University of Nevada School of Medicine, said Viner has always been known to be eccentric, but the videos are “disturbing” and undermine the practice of psychiatry.
“I think they’re terrible at a time when we’ve made some strides in establishing psychiatry as an ethical and medical subspecialty,” Thienhaus said. “They send exactly the wrong message: (that psychiatry) is weird or strange. It’s almost like magic, a little voodoo-like.”
Viner is an adjunct professor at the School of Medicine because he supervises medical residents at the Dini-Townsend Hospital, a mental facility in Sparks. Thienhaus said that if Viner worked for him, he would examine his practice patterns.
“I have to admit I wouldn’t want somebody with that kind of image on my staff,” Thienhaus said.
Furthermore, the Doctor of Mind videos could lead people to wonder if Viner is mentally ill or has a substance abuse problem, said Thienhaus, who added that he is not accusing him of the ailments.
“He sounds like he could be high on something” in the videos, Thienhaus said. “That’s all I can say.”
The “Doctor of Mind” character comes off a bit like a character that would be played by comedian Dana Carvey — except he’s not as funny.
In an episode called “Tonight Show starring Doctor of Mind MD,” Viner wears a yellow sport coat and flips through notecards detailing the “top 26 methods of suicide” that are reported at the emergency room where he works. He races through a stack of cards, listing each method and then glibly tossing aside the cards. “... Firearms ... hanging ... stabbing with a knife, driver suicide — where you want to drive off a cliff, let’s say ... suffocation, starvation ...”
Nevada has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation and experts say is underfunded in the area of suicide prevention. Viner is a nationally known expert on the topic. He wrote a book called “Suicide,” lectured on suicide prevention in Washington, D.C., this year and published on the subject in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. The point of the “Tonight Show” spoof on suicide is unclear. There are no punch lines.
Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, a longtime advocate for mental health services in the Legislature, called the videos “extremely unprofessional and disappointing.”
She said the videos “weren’t funny. They weren’t entertaining. They’re just disturbing. It doesn’t reflect good judgment.”
In a video called “Are you healthy enough for sexual activity?” Doctor of Mind lounges on a bed in red bikini briefs, his shirt unbuttoned exposing his chest and belly, saying he hates the commercials where consumers are told to call a doctor if they’re “in the middle of sexual activity” and worried about their health.
“Do me a favor, don’t call me,” Doctor of Mind says.
In another video he bounces on his bed in his underwear briefs to the tune, “That’s the Way I Like It.”
Las Vegas psychiatrist Dr. Lesley Dickson, secretary-treasurer of the Nevada Psychiatric Association, said if Viner wants to be an actor, he should play roles that are separate from the profession. He’s blurring the boundaries, she said.
“I don’t think it portrays our profession or mental illness very well,” the psychiatrist said. “I just have to question his judgment to do something like this.”
In another video about the potential dangers of psychiatric medications, Doctor of Mind lies on his back with his feet propped on a table facing the camera, as if they are in obstetric stirrups. He’s wearing no pants but is draped by a towel. His hands are high in the air and he’s saying that “these are mind-altering drugs that can be more dangerous than a pelvic exam.”
When asked if he made any videos of himself in his underwear, Viner said at first that they may have been “Photoshopped.” Later in the interview, he said, he “might have made one, but I took it down right away. He uses his wife and friends to give him feedback, he said, and sometimes removes videos from the Web sites.
“I’ve made 600 videos. There are probably a couple of questionable ones,” he said.
Thienhaus called the Doctor of Mind videos “funny in exactly the wrong way. It’s like a joke about a schizophrenic patient — it may make you laugh but it’s of very superficial value.”