Mental Disorders and Crime

Public opinion surveys suggest that many people think mental illness and violence go hand in hand. Research suggests that most individuals with psychiatric disorders are not violent. A subset of people with psychiatric disorders commit assaults and violent crimes, but not everyone suffering from a mental disorder is a criminal. Some of the people suffering from mental disorders might show a violent behaviour, which does not necessarily co-relate to crime. 

There are different mental disorders and in a lot of cases, the crime might have resulted from the criminal's mental illness. Nevertheless this does not discount the fact that there could be other contributing factors. Thus, the sole reason for a crime to take place is NOT always a mental illness.

Note: Since the lesson deals with a scientific topic, a lot of definitions, examples and symptoms (from Wikipedia and science journals) have not been rephrased in order to avoid any misinterpretation. The explanations however, have been paraphrased for easy comprehension.

by Grishma Samuel
1 year, 8 months ago
The human body has its natural defence mechanism and even in our unconscious state, this defence mechanism is continuously working. Automatism is said to set in when the body's natural defence mechanisms, guarding against physical injury during unconsciousness, fails to work. We all dream in our sleep and no matter how real the dream may seem, the human body's controls are in place to stop us from physically acting out our dream. In automatism, a person suffering from it cannot differentiate between his sleep phase and dream phase. Automatism results in a disturbed control mechanism in either the sleep phase or dream phase. When this disturbance occurs during a phase of deep sleep it can result in sleepwalking, which is usually harmless and the maximum harm that can occur is the person hurting himself.

However, if this disturbance occurs during dream sleep, this can result in more serious problems, with people potentially acting out the scenarios taking place in their dreams. In some people the controls can be unbalanced naturally, but in others medication or alcohol can be the trigger. Wikipedia cites the following examples to explain automatism - Esther Griggs in 1858 threw her child out of a first floor window believing that the house was on fire, whilst having a night terror (Walker, 1968). Brian Thomas strangled his wife in their campervan in a more recent case in Aberporth in an episode of rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder (a disorder related to sleepwalking), where he dreamed there was an intruder on top of his wife.

In Criminology, Automatism is used as a legal defence, arguing that a person cannot be held responsible for their actions because they had no conscious knowledge of them. In legal terms, Automatism is classified as - 'Insane Automatism' and 'Non-Insane Automatism'. Insane Automatism is said to be caused by a mental disorder, while Non-Insane Automatism is believed to be linked to external factors, such as a head injury or being injected with a drug. This distinction is used to determine if an accused can be convicted of a crime or not based on the category of Automatism he exhibits. The medical profession however, does not substantiate this point with any evidence.

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Dissociative Identity Disorder  (DID) was formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). This mental disorder should not be confused with Schizophrenia.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), as the name suggests is a mental disorder characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities or dissociated personality states that alternately control a person's behavior. Any identity can take over the person at any given time, compelling him to behave according to that particular identity. He might instantly slip into into another identity soon after and have no memory of the previous one. 

DID is a controversial disorder with important medico-legal implications. Defendants have claimed that they committed serious crimes, including rape or murder, while they were in a dissociated state. Debate continues over whether DID truly exists, whether expert testimony should be allowed into evidence, and whether it should excuse defendants for their criminal acts. 

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, intriguingly illustrated individuals with multiple personalities. Sidney Sheldon's novel Tell Me Your Dreams and The Three Faces of Eve, a 1957 book and film based on a case study by Thigpen and Cleckley deal with DID.

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Münchausen Syndrome (Source: Wikipedia) is a psychiatric disorder wherein those affected fake disease, illness, or psychological trauma to draw attention or sympathy to themselves. This disorder is also called 'Hospital Addiction' and the patient intentionally fabricates a disease and produces symptoms in accordance with the disease. It is self-induced and may contain exaggerated forms of dramatic medical presentations however, people suffering from this disorder should not be confused with 'hypochondriacs'.  
Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP) is a disorder in which a person intentionally causes injury or a sense of fear to another person. This deliberate acts are performed in order to gain some attention. Munchausen Syndrome by proxy can also be called as a form of child abuse. The main intention behind is to attain a negative character by intentionally hurting people. This disorder can lead to the tragic death of the child.

Münchausen Syndrome by proxy VS Münchausen Syndrome:
Both the psychiatric disorders have the base of getting attention from others by deliberately committing illness to others. In the case of Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy the person getting affected is the patients own child. Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy mainly affects children whereas Münchausen Syndrome affects adults. When compared between the two, Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy is much more dangerous as it affects children and there are more chances for a child or baby to die in the course of creating an illness.

1994 television film, A Child's Cry for Help, starring Pam Dawber and Veronica Hamel, with a supporting role by a young Tobey Maguire was based on Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy.
In attempting to diagnose Munchausen syndrome by proxy, it is helpful to separate the mother ...
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If you have the habit of constantly checking your phone because you fear missing out on messages, calls, updates from your friends, work etc., or if you check the door knob multiple times before leaving the house to assure yourself that it is locked, if you wash your hands or brush your teeth multiple times in a day (more than the required number of times), and if you have a strict preference of having things in a certain way and try to seek a structure, pattern or routine in everything that you do then you are a victim of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). 

OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and a behaviour of repeatedly doing something which eventually becomes a ritual. These unwanted intrusive thoughts can produce an irrational uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry if the pattern of repetition is broken. Most of the times, people suffering from OCD are not even aware of it. OCD is quite a common disorder, but the degree to which it occurs, varies and acute OCD can lead to serious problems.

Common obsessive thoughts in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include:

  • Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others.
  • Fear of causing harm to yourself or others.
  • Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images.
  • Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas.
  • Fear of losing or not having things you might need.
  • Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up to be perfect.
  • Superstitions: excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky.

Common compulsive behaviors in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include:

  • Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches.
  • Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe.
  • Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety.
  • Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning.
  • Ordering/arranging/ structuring things repeatedly.
  • Praying excessively or engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear.
  • Accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers or empty food containers.
In 2009, An IIT PhD scholar from Delhi, allegedly murdered a teenager (girl) from Manipur, and it later came to light that he suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder. Investigation revealed that the accused had made graffiti art on the walls revealing his perverted nature. He was unable to be friends with girls and so he had a complex. This made him uncomfortable and his complex took over eventually becoming an obsession. One of his graffiti, which was made, just before the crime read "This is the time to make a girl friend. I am finally making someone."
There are multiple cases where OCD has been the reason for a crime to take place. Natalie Portman's character, Nina Sayers is shown to suffer from an OCD in the movie 'The Black Swan'. Nina suffers from an OCD of perfection, she is obsessed with the idea of being perfect and in her quest of playing the White Swan's role  (Swan Queen) she harms herself and dies. Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Howard Hughes in the movie 'The Aviator' is shown to suffer from an OCD. The film focuses on Hughes' life from the late 1920s to 1947, during which he becomes a successful film producer and an aviation magnate and he also suffers from an acute OCD that makes him unstable.
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Kleptomania is the irresistible urge to steal items that you generally don't really need and that usually have little financial value. A kleptomanic does not always steal things that could be useful to him/her. They just take a fancy to steal something and they cannot refrain from doing so. This is commonly known as 'shoplifting'. 

Kleptomania is frequently thought of as being a subset of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), since the irresistible and uncontrollable actions are similar to the frequently excessive, unnecessary, and unwanted rituals of OCD. Some individuals with kleptomania demonstrate hoarding symptoms that resemble those with OCD. Kleptomania does not lead to any heinous crime- it is stealing, which is a crime, although not as serious as the others mentioned here.

The movies, 'Kleptomania' (1995) and 'Teenage Bonnie and Klepto Clyde' (1993) focus on kleptomania as the subject.

Abstract Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder that can cause significant impairment and serious consequences ...
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Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by a breakdown of thought processes and by a deficit of typical emotional responses. (Source: Wikipedia)

One of the most obvious kinds of impairment caused by schizophrenia is delusions & hallucinations which involves a person's rational, thinking capacity. A schizophrenic loses the ability to rationally evaluate things and his/her interactions with people and the surroundings. Their delusion prevents them from seeing and understanding what is true. Thus, they have a problem interpreting reality as it exists. Common symptoms include auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking, and it is accompanied by significant social or occupational dysfunction.

Not all Schizophrenics are criminals, but because Schizophrenia's symptoms create a dysfunctional behaviour in the patient, he/she may not have 'stable' mental health, which may lead to violence. A lot of serial killers are said to suffer from Schizophrenia along with other mental disorders that may co-exist. There are different kinds of schizophrenics and depending on the severity of their condition, they're likely to commit a crime. At times a schizophrenic with no past criminal record may commit a crime in the heat of the moment, which could possibly be attributed to their state of being delusional. They could also be self-destructive. 

The book and movie 'A Beautiful Mind' had a schizophrenic character, John Nash (male lead). The Bollywood movie '15 Park Avenue' also dealt very beautifully, with a sensitive issue like Schizophrenia. 

Substance abuse like drug or alcohol significantly increases the risk that people with Schizophrenia will ...
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Narcissism is a term associated with excessive self-love. Narcissist is a person overly obsessed with himself and things associated to him. The term originated with Narcissus in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. 

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder in which the individual is described as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity. This condition affects one percent of the population. It was historically called 'Megalomania' and focuses on ego-centrism. 

In addition to these symptoms, a narcissist exhibits a dominant, arrogant behavior and constantly tries to seek power and authority. Narcissists have an inflated ego and self-confidence and usually think lowly of others. However, they cannot handle criticism, and will often try to compensate for this inner fragility by belittling or disparaging others in an attempt to validate their own self-worth. It is this sadistic tendency that is characteristic of narcissism as opposed to other psychological conditions affecting level of self-worth. This obsession to be superior, better and perfect as compared to others could lead to them being delusional while dealing with other people. They usually care less and appear apathetic even to basic human emotions. This makes it easier for narcissists to commit crime. Harming others to validate their self-worth does not affect them emotionally and on the contrary they derive pleasure out of depreciating others' worth.

Movies like 'Cruel Intentions', 'Basic Instinct' and 'Shame' deal with the subject of NPD with one of the characters playing a narcissist's role in the movie. 

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Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a personality disorder characterized by unusual variability and depth of moods. A person suffering from BPD undergoes a myriad of emotions, both positive and negative and the patient swings between these various moods. These moods may secondarily affect cognition and interpersonal relationships. It is characteristically associated with a broad variety of psychiatric symptoms and aberrant behaviors. 

Other symptoms of BPD include impulsive behaviour, intense and unstable interpersonal relationships, unstable self-image, feelings of abandonment and an unstable sense of self. People with BPD often engage in idealization and devaluation of themselves and of others, alternating between high positive regard and heavy disappointment or dislike. Self-harm and suicidal behavior are common and may require inpatient psychiatric care.

According to the findings of the majority of studies, BPD is over-represented in prison populations. This finding may be particularly evident among female prisoners. Rates vary, depending on the methodology, but generally appear to be in the range of 25 to 50 percent. Factors that may be associated with the presence of BPD among criminals include being female, having a history of childhood sexual abuse, committing an impulsive and violent crime (e.g., murder), having antisocial personality disorder traits, and perpetrating domestic violence. Given this association, clinicians in both mental health and primary care settings need to be aware of the possibilities of such histories in their patients with BPD. (Source: NCBI Report)

Both literature and cinema have portrayed varying shades of borderline personality disorder. The films 'Play Misty for Me' and 'Fatal Attraction' are two such examples illustrating aggression caused by BPD sufferers. 'Girl Interrupted', a film starring Angelina Jolie (shown suffering from BPD) based on the memoir by Susanna Kaysen (played by Winona Ryder), revolves around this subject, depicting BPD's emotional stability. 

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As a medical diagnosis, pedophilia (also paedophilia) is a psychiatric disorder in persons 16 years of age or older typically characterized by a primary or exclusive sexual interest toward prepubescent children. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) defines pedophilia as a disorder of adult personality and behaviour in which there is a sexual preference for children of prepubertal or early pubertal age. (Source: Wikipedia)

Last Year, French diplomat Pascal Mazurier, deputy head of chancery in the French consulate in Bangalore was been accused of raping his 4-year-old daughter. Both literature and cinema have portrayed pedophilia in varying degrees. 
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Here are are two more interesting accounts of psychological disorders related to crime. Read on to know more about their relation with crime and criminals.

  1. Hybristophilia - Hybristophilia is a psychological disorder characterized by an attraction or sexual inclination towards people who have committed a crime. An individual suffering from this disorder has a paraphilia with a sexual arousal towards a partner known to have committed a crime. This disorder is commonly known as 'Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome'. It affects women more than men and hybristophiliac individuals are known to send mails to prisoners everyday and exhibit sexual and/or amorous feelings to imprisoned criminals. Hybristophilia can also involve the patient helping the person commit a crime. A very well-known example of this is the large number of women who were attracted to Ted Bundy after his arrest. Theodore Robert 'Ted' Bundy (November 24, 1946 – January 24, 1989) was an American serial killer, rapist,kidnapper, and necrophile who assaulted and murdered numerous young women and girls during the 1970s and possibly earlier. An example closer to home would be that of Charles Sobhraj, a serial killer of Indian and Vietnamese origin, who preyed on Western tourists throughout Southeast Asia during the 1970s. He later  announced his marriage to Nihita Biswas, his lawyer's daughter and a girl less than one-third his age.
  2. Stockholm Syndrome - Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a kidnapped person (hostage) becomes loyal, sympathetic and expresses positive feelings towards their kidnapper. It can also occur in rape cases, abuse cases, and in any case where a person is being subjugated to another person's will to do something. Sometimes, the person with Stockholm Syndrome becomes so compliant, that they will commit crimes for their captors or defend them. 
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There are a lot of mental disorders characterized by aberrations in the personality, many of which we haven't even heard of. The consequences each of them produce can leave you astonished at how powerful the human brain is. If it can generate constructive results with its intelligence and intellect, it can induce equally destructive ideas due to a mental imbalance.

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1. Automatism
2. Dissociative Identity Disorder
3. Münchausen Syndrome
4. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
5. Kleptomania
6. Schizophrenia
7. Narcissistic Personality Disorder
8. Borderline Personality Disorder
9. Pedophilia
10. Hybristophilia and Stockholm Syndrome
11. Conclusion
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