Mike Tyson's Mental Health Evaluation of 1998

A Look at How Professionals Evaluate the Mind

Former Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson
Deontay Wilder v Artur Szpilka. Mike Stobe/Getty Images

There has been a lot of discussion about Mike Tyson's mental health over the years. In September 1998, the Nevada State Athletic Commission ordered Mike Tyson to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he was mentally fit to return to boxing after they had fined and revoked his boxing license. The results ended up being made public and can give us a close look at the different approaches that professionals use to evaluate the brain and the mind.

The original report can be found all over the internet.

Why Mike Tyson was Evaluated

After losing his boxing license due to the now famous fight with Evander Holyfield on June 28, 1997, in which Tyson bit Holyfield's ears, the Nevada State Athletic Commission told Tyson he would have to undergo a psychological evaluation to make sure he was fit to box before he could get his license back. Mike Tyson made it clear that he did not want this report to be released to the public. The doctors who performed the assessment stated the same opinion. A report of this type is usually made a part of a person's medical record and it is kept extremely confidential. The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that the reports should be released, so Tyson, deciding that getting his license back was more important than confidentiality, signed a waiver to make them public.

What Mike Tyson's Evaluation Concluded

The report declared Tyson fit to return to boxing, though said he certainly had some emotional issues with poor self-esteem, anger and impulsivity that could be helped by weekly counseling session.

The evaluation describes some interesting aspects of Tyson's personality. It also illustrates nicely some of the finer distinctions among doctoral-level mental health professionals.

The Key Players in Mike Tyson's Evaluation

A team of six specialists participated in Tyson's evaluation, including two neurologists, a clinical psychologist, a neuropsychologist and two psychiatrists, one of whom is also a lawyer,

Medical Evaluation of Mike Tyson

Ronald Schouten, M.D., J.D. is both a psychiatrist and a and, at the time of the evaluation, was the director of Law and Psychiatry Service at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He wrote the independent medical evaluation which incorporated the information from all six of the experts involved. His expertise in both law and psychiatry was helpful in an assessment which was written for a quasi-legal body. He also ordered labwork to look at Tyson's general health, to screen for drugs of abuse, and to look at the level of Zoloft (sertraline) in his blood, since he had been taking Zoloft for a month prior.

Neurological Evaluation of Mike Tyson

Jeremy Schmahmann, M.D. is a neurologist. Neurologists are medical doctors who study the brain. Dr. Schmahmann's report was written in the form of a letter to Dr. Schouten. This is a common format for reports from a specialist who have been asked to consult on a case. By reading this report you will get a good idea of what is often included in a neurologist's examination.

A history is taken with the emphasis being on possible past head injuries or neurological symptoms. Reflexes are tested and the subject is asked to perform various simple tasks. A mental status exam is administered to determine if aware of his surroundings. An electroencephalogram (EEG) and a magnetic resonance image (MRI) were both performed to look at the structure and functioning of his brain. The EEG looks at the electrical activity in the brain, while the MRI looks at the structure of the brain. Both were normal. Dr. Schmahmann commented favorably on Tyson's demeanor, stating that he "demonstrated an ability to be both gentle and generous." He found Tyson to be neurologically intact.

Psychological Evaluation of Mike Tyson

David Medoff, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who was asked to administer psychological tests to Tyson. He administered a standard battery of tests which psychologists often use. The Bender-Gestalt is a very brief screening test which looks at visual-motor skills and is sometimes used as a very rough screening test for brain damage. The Rorschach Inkblot Test is the famous projective test where a person is shown a series of inkblots and asked what they see in them. Their responses are compared with responses of a large sample of others to get a picture of their cognitive and emotional life. One of the things that the Rorschach does best is to examine whether a psychotic process (such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) is present. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2) is a standardized psychological test consisting of almost 600 true-false questions. Most people find it to be a chore to take, and Tyson appeared to be giving random responses at one point. A second administration of this test appeared valid. Psychologists combine data from tests such as these with information from an interview to paint a picture of a person's personality. Dr. Medoff had mostly positive things to say about Tyson. Some mild depression was reported to be present, but not a full-blown "major depression."

Neuropsychological Evaluation of Mike Tyson

Thomas Deters, Ph.D. is a neuropsychologist. Neuropsychologists also have a degree in psychology, usually clinical psychology. They have specialized in neuropsychological testing. This type of testing involves asking someone to perform a series of mental or behavioral tasks, such as putting together puzzles or tapping certain fingers at a rapid pace. By examining the pattern of the person's performance, the neuropsychologist can often tell whether there has been brain damage and can get a good idea where the damage is located. They can also diagnose learning disabilities and similar problems. Deters' report suggests that Tyson did suffer from "mild to possibly moderate neurobehavioral compromise." He also found Tyson to have significant strengths which tend to balance these deficits.

David Henderson, M.D., a psychiatrist, and Barry Jordan, M.D., a neurologist also took part in the evaluation.


Smith, Timothy W., "Boxing; Report Says Tyson Has Mental Woes but Is Fit." The New York Times, October 14, 1998.

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