Mental illness as a general term is defined as “any of numerous disorders categorised by impairment of an individual’s thoughts, emotions, or social functioning”. Types of mental illnesses may include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, psychotic disorder etc. It has been discussed that mental illness is linked to crime. As public opinion surveys highlight that mentally ill people are professed as violent and unsafe. Especially those suffering from schizophrenia. Whilst others believe that it could be related to other factors such as: the effects of medication (psychiatric drugs that may have side effects), the importance of stress caused by bad housing or financial difficulties. Or even the fact that some head injuries may raise the risk of violence, for example injury to the temporal or frontal lobe that may encourage aggressive behaviours.
In this essay I will be discussing how mental illness and crime is important and how they are both linked drawing upon different case studies and research.
Howitt (2017) states there is considerable evidence that “schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders are associated with violent behaviour”. Schizophrenia is a plain long-standing mental health condition. Which causes a range of different psychological signs. It’s shown that it is twice as probable a person with psychosis will commit criminal violence as opposed to someone who doesn’t have psychosis. For example, an “paranoid schizophrenic killed young woman with screwdriver”, this case highlights the fact violence can be associated with such a disorder. It hinders the ability for the individual to differentiate what’s right and wrong. As in the case mentioned, William’s (the defendant) mum added just days before the killing he said the “voices were back “and also added that his head wasn’t right”.
However, schizophrenia violence is said to be a related feature, while not a diagnostic characteristic. As some researchers have suggested that violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia. As there are several factors of why crime is committed. For instance, according to Howitt (2017) psychiatric drugs are arranged to mentally ill individuals to regulate the signs of their illness. In which case, these drugs may have side effects. Subsequent to violent behaviour. It’s also said such drugs that are taken by individuals suffering from mental illness to relieve their symptoms, is the actual source of their aggressiveness/behaviour not the mental illness itself. Furthermore, according (Van Dorn, Volavka and Johnson, 2012), there are other factors, these include: childhood abuse and neglect, household anti-social behaviour, binge drinking and stressful situations. These were all based on past and current conditions that violence was associated with. Therefore, it’s not always the case of mental illness being linked to crime as other factors can contribute just as much.
In contrast to this, a very prevalent case of Ed Gein (also known as the butcher of Plainfeild) “served as the inspiration of for some of Hollywood’s most sadistic murderers”. Gein who had been recalled as “shy and strange” by his elementary school teachers, had been found guilty for the murder of his brother Henry. When the police found his farmhouse had been filled with human body parts, kitchen utensils made from skulls, chairs sewed with human skin along with other house-hold items. Although he had left countless trail of bodies, he was only charged for the murder of Bernice Worden (local hardware owner). Furthermore, Gein had plead not guilty on the grounds of insanity, therefore incompetent to stand trial. He was referred to an “Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia”. This case advises that such mental illnesses, can be linked to crime. It’s no coincidence that patients of schizophrenia commit crimes.
In opposition, mass media can also play huge part in influencing the public’s views and opinions on mental illness and crime. According to Baun (2009) negative and inaccurate illustrations of mental health information in the media, results to misinterpretations and consequences. For instance, particularly with schizophrenia, inaccurate representations can regularly get confused in the media. Thus, leading to confusion and conflict. One reason why the mentally ill “continue to receive” negative attention from the media may be due to “fear and prejudice”. With studies that have shown even just one “shocking media image of mental illness” amplified the notion that mentally ill are more likely to do bodily harm to others. Also “to make the media consumer more fearful of such individuals”. Resulting in them feeling excluded from society. Hence why the mass media can be a prevailing source of information, in shaping the public’s views, positive or negative.
This however does not change the fact, that mentally ill people are a “particularly high-risk group”. As they show symptoms of unsystematic thought processes, uncontrollable behaviour, poor planning and problem solving. These can impair one’s ability to notice risk and protect oneself, which can result to crime. According to Varshney et al. (2015) 10% of patients with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders behave violently, which proposes that mental illness does subsidise to the risk of violence. This shows the relationship between mental illness and crime is significant.
Nevertheless, mentally ill patients can also be victims of violence. Showing clear dangers of physical trauma with past distressing and victimisation experiences, which have found to be “significantly associated with patients symptom severity and illness course”. Already in a helpless state, it’s said that they are more significantly impacted by the crime and may get fewer support than they need, to deal with the repercussion. Hence, it’s found that violent victimisation of patients happens more often than violent offending. Varshney et al. (2015) suggests that risk factors such as: Age (young) substance use and homelessness contributes to victimisation.
Although some may be victims, according to Hodgins (1992) individuals with schizophrenia were found to be 2.6 times more likely to have been sentenced of a criminal offence compared to healthy people. They were also accounted for crime of every type. A reason why schizophrenic patients are more likely to be convicted may be, that their perceptions of reality are distorted and highly affected. Therefore, violence may signify a comeback to frustration and “the loss of power and control”. Hence why mental illness and crime can be closely linked.
As mentioned above, other factors other than mental illness can be linked to crime. For instance, head injuries. These may include mild wounds such as: bumps/ bruises, or severe injuries such as fractured skull bones or damage to the brain. An example may be, the Fred West murders. It’s said, an earlier motorcycle incident left him “with serious head injuries. According to some experts, a metal plate was placed in his head that may have affected his behaviour and compulsion control”. Furthermore, West had experienced another head injury which resulted in permanent brain damage.
In contrast to this view, individuals with mental illness show psychological symptoms which may explain their violent behaviour and shows how it can be linked to crime. Teasdale (2009) listed psychological symptoms such as: hallucinations, delusions and treatment as “predictors of violence” mid the mentally ill. Hence why he conducted a study with the consideration of psychological features, in view of gender nature of coping with delusional beliefs. The study concluded that men and women retort differently to the experience of psychopathological symptomatology, and for this reason, it may affect their contribution in violent acts.
That may be the case, however majority of studies and research point towards other factors, such as medical conditions. It’s supposed that certain medical conditions can be linked with violent behaviour. Conditions such as: trauma, infections, neoplasms and brain injuries can cause irritability and aggression. This could eventually lead to violence and then to crime. It doesn’t necessarily mean the individual has to be mentally ill to commit a crime. As certain medical conditions (listed above) can have a similar outcome.
On the contrary, medical conditions may cause aggressive behaviour, yet it’s no coincidence, those suffering from a mental illness show higher levels of violence. Taylor et al (1998) recognised higher rates of assaults committed by people with severe mental illness during hospitalisation. This shows a clear link between mental illness and violent behaviour, yet there may be other explanations for the seemingly high rates of violence in hospitals.
It could be argued that violent behaviour is not always associated with mental illness. As past experiences, such as a family history of violence can cause violent behaviour. Green and Kowalick (2018) found that variables such as parental resentment, maternal permissiveness and absence of parental affection could lead to anti-social behaviours. As well as other factors, which may include child abuse, poor parental modelling/ lack of a role model figure and poor school experiences, homelessness and witnessing or experiencing violence, can all contribute to crime.
Though, cases such as Aileen Wuornos prove otherwise. “After a childhood with abuse and neglect”, Wuornos became America’s most notorious female serial killer. Working as a prostitute, Wuornos killed seven men while working the highways of state in 1989 and 1990. She was convicted, and on trial for the murder of Richard Mallory (whom she had shot several times). As time went on, she plead guilty to three more murders. It was found she was diagnosed as a psychopath, suffering from anti-social personality disorder. This case supports the idea, the relationship between mental illness and crime is significant.
It could be argued the relationship between mental illness and crime is not significant as it’s likely that mentally ill come across barriers to treatment, this insufficient treatment of their condition leads to patients being arrested for both violent and non-violent crimes. According to Marie E. Rueve (2008) these charges are founded on untreated symptoms, for instance paranoia, resulting in trespassing or breaking and entering. As a result of these untreated symptoms, it allows the condition to manifest, impairing the individual’s abilities, to distinguish what’s considered right and wrong.
In contrast to this, the relationship between mental health and crime is significant. Another prevalent case proves this. David Berkowitz (aka son of Sam) was known for going on killing spree from 1976-1977. Berkowitz confessed to six murders, with the claim his neighbour’s dog told to kill them. As well as confessing to murders, he also set 1,500 fires in and around New York City. Furthermore, forty years later Berkowitz “continues to draw significant attention due to the thrilling nature of his crimes, his claims of demonic possession and his ability to taunt and avoid the NYPD”. He was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. And remains as America’s infamous murderer.
In conclusion, there is a considerable amount of research and studies that point towards the idea, the relationship between mental illness and crime is significant. Well-known cases of Aileen Wuornos, Ed Gein and David Berkowitz all suffered mental illness (mainly schizophrenia) which resulted in the murders. It’s no coincidence, that each one of these individuals suffered from a mental illness which led to crime. Some researcher’s believe it could also be down to other factors such as: bad housing, financial difficulties, stress, history of family violence, alcohol and substance use, head injuries and untreated symptoms from medical conditions. Although mentally ill show higher levels of aggressive behaviour and violence. Their impaired ability to differentiate what is considered right and wrong, results in crime and consequences.
Additionally, media also shapes the public’s opinion on how the mentally ill are perceived. For instance, they can be represented in a negative way, therefore portraying them as violent and dangerous. Or it may simply be the effects of medication. Yet majority of research and studies point towards the statement, the relationship between mental illness and crime is significant but other factors can contribute just as much.
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