A small study of people who self-identify as vampires were, understandably, reluctant to reveal their blood- and energy-draining proclivities to doctors and psychologists for fear of rejection and being labeled mentally ill.
According to a Reuters story, "Research led by D.J. Williams, director of social work at Idaho State University, indicated that people who identify themselves as ‘real' vampires – that is, needing others' blood to gain energy – would not disclose their practices to those in the helping professions and risk reactions like ridicule, disgust and possible diagnosis of a mental illness."
"Newsweek," in a short piece headlined "Real Vampires Exist – and They Need Counseling Too," framed the topic as about "how one self-identifies," comparing the social stigma of coming out as a vampire with coming out as transgendered.
So do "real vampires" exist? Sure they do: many animals suck blood, including leeches, vampire bats and female mosquitoes. Humans, however, cannot drink blood safely for several reasons including the risk of blood-borne pathogens and iron toxicity: humans, unlike true vampires, have no way of preventing the iron-rich blood from causing a life-threatening condition called hemochromatosis.
Other self-identified vampires claim to drain not blood, but some sort of psychic energy or life-force from others; since these energies have not been proven to exist and are unknown to science, doctors don't worry about that kind of vampirism.
The study, published in the latest issue of the Canadian journal "Critical Social Work, had a very small sample - 11 people - and there was no attempt to determine whether or not the vampire's self-reports were accurate. Just because a person claims to be a vampire doesn't mean he or she is one, of course.
Clinical Vampirism There are many people who genuinely believe themselves to be werewolves and vampires. Clinical lycanthropy is a recognized medical condition in which a person believes himself or herself to be another animal, typically a wolf or canine.
A German man named Peter Stump (or Stubbe; spellings vary) claimed in 1589 that a belt of wolfskin he owned allowed him to change into a wolf. He said that when he changed form, his teeth and hair would grow and he had a desire for human blood. Stump confessed to killing at least a dozen people while in the form of a wolf; there was no real evidence that he could actually turn into a wolf, of course, and it's clear he was mentally ill. He was found guilty of murder and decapitated on Halloween of that year.
Though Stump's case is an extreme example, he's not alone. In 2011, for example, a 19-year-old Texas man named Lyle Monroe Bensley broke into a woman's apartment and bit her neck.
According to an ABC News story, "The woman, whose name has not been released, broke free and fled the apartment, speeding to safety in a neighbor's car early Saturday. When police arrived on the scene, they found Bensley, wearing only boxer shorts, hissing and growling in the parking lot. He quickly scaled two fences before he was captured, yelling all the while that he ‘didn't want to have to feed on humans.'"
Though the victim of that self-proclaimed vampire escaped with only a scare, another later that year wasn't as lucky. This time it was a young Florida woman who killed a 16-year-old she'd dated named Jacob Hendershot.
According to a CBS News story, "Stephanie Pistey says she believes she's part vampire and part werewolf. Florida police say that, in July, Pistey's friends lured Hendershot to a house, killed him, and then left his body in a storm drain."
Pistey told a local TV station "I know this is going to be crazy, but I believe that I'm a vampire and part werewolf."
Pistey, who claimed to drink blood, and whose MySpace handle was VampireBlood1616, said in interviews that "Some people have called me a ‘bavie' before - a bio-experiment vampire." Pistey was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.
There are others as well, including Joshua Rudiger, a San Francisco man who claimed to be a 2,000-year-old vampire and who in 1998 slashed the throats of three victims - killing one of them - in an attempt to get their blood.
Researchers Philip Jaffe and Frank DiCataldo, writing about clinical vampirism in the "Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law," note that "Both clinical and forensic psychologists and psychiatrists have described cases that involve acts that are strongly reminiscent of some aspect of the mythical vampire's behavior...Clinical vampirism is one of the few pathological manifestations that blends myth and reality in dramatic fashion and contains a hodgepodge of nosological [disease classification-related] elements, including schizophrenic, psychopathic and perverse features."
Self-Identifying as Vampires People like Stump, Bensley, Pistey and Rudiger are rare, of course, of course. Most self-described vampires are harmless, and psychopaths exist in every community. Vampires are everywhere in fiction and pop culture, and convey elements of power, romance, eroticism and immortality. It's not surprising that many people identify with vampires and some even claim to be them.
People are drawn to the vampire subculture for the same reasons they are drawn to any subculture: for a sense of community and shared interest. For her book "Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires Today," Katherine Ramsland researched vampire subcultures and interviewed many self-professed vampires.
She noted that "A huge part of vampire culture involves role-playing, both official and unofficial. It's a way to escape, and to have fun." Some people wear capes or perform arcane rituals; others have vampire fang dental implants. For the vast majority of vampires it's harmless role-playing with a Gothic twist, not fundamentally different than Civil War re-enactors or "Star Wars" cosplayers one might see at Comic-Con.
The new study's authors, Williams and Prior, note that "People with real vampire identities, at least those within this sample, are fearful that clinicians will label them as being psychopathological in some way (i.e., delusional, immature, unstable), perhaps wicked, and not competent to perform in typical social roles, such as parenting."
However, mental health professionals routinely treat patients with a wide variety of illnesses and belief systems. Unless a person's belief that he or she is a "real" vampire is causing significant disruption in a person's life - and Williams suggests otherwise, noting that vampires "are successful, ordinary people" - then most psychologists likely wouldn't be concerned at the belief.
But because some vampiric practices - notably the attempted drinking of human blood - be dangerous, this places a counselor in a difficult position if a patient says he or she does this. Mental health professionals are obligated to report people who may be a danger to themselves or others.
A vampire patient who voluntarily engages in that behavior (and not, for example, out of an addiction or diagnosed compulsion) could be considered a threat and involuntarily committed. Though unlikely, it's certainly possible, and thus people who claim to engage in vampirism have some basis for concern.
It's not a matter of the social acceptance of leading a vampire-inspired lifestyle, it's a question of whether any harm is being done; given the rare-but-real history of violent acts committed by self-identified vampires, it's a legitimate concern.