In general perception, mental health disorders and criminality are deeply entwined. Even with many of the taboos surrounding mental health disorders shunned, a part of us still associates mental health issues with dangerousness. People of all ages with mental health issues often end up in prisons for committing various crimes.
However, these might be deeply entrenched biases in the general perception and the criminal justice system regarding judging people with mental health issues. The truth is that many convicts with mental health problems need our help more than our judgment. Therefore, the relationship between crime and mental health isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. To examine further the complexities of this relationship, keep reading below.
Patients within the system
Crime consists of two elements, the mensrea, and the actus rea. The Mensrea suggests a guilty mind, whereas the actus rea is the blameworthy act itself. When convicting a person with a mental health illness, the mensrea itself comes into question, as the person wasn’t of a sound mind when they committed the crime. There exist many such patients, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, within the criminal justice system.
To prevent any further crime, we need to work with empathy and kindness towards these individuals. Social workers can help train lawyers, law enforcement officials, and correctional officers to work with criminal populations. They also diagnose and treat mental health disorders. They can advise the justice system about the best interests of incarcerated minors and adults suffering from mental health issues. With a deep understanding of the law and psychological principles, forensic social work helps make the legal system more just, allowing everyone a chance for fair treatment.
Do mental disorders predispose patients to criminality?
Mental disorders exist on a vast spectrum, so it’s incorrect to suggest that people with any mental condition might be dangerous. However, certain illnesses can predispose patients to act violently if they don’t receive proper treatment. Schizophrenia and paranoia, coupled with substance abuse, can lead to patients becoming violent and committing crimes. Bipolar disorder, and sexual disorders, along with psychosis, can lead to patients committing crimes.
Furthermore, people who have an untreated mental illness often commit crimes that are either assaultive or sexual. The crimes they commit are also more deviant than those committed by healthy individuals.
The social link between crime and mental illness
While untreated mental illnesses can lead to people committing crimes, there is also a social link between crime and mental illness. We highlight crimes committed by mentally impaired people much more than those committed by ordinary individuals.
Furthermore, lack of awareness leads to prison authorities falsely labeling inmates as mentally ill. An anti-social personality disorder is one such label arbitrarily applied to most inmates. Criminals also often use the insanity defense to get a lenient sentence. It means that people who have mental illness fail to get fair treatment, while those who are normal abuse loopholes in the system.
The relationship between crime and mental illness is complicated. Many incarcerated patients can get better with mental health counseling and social support. Treatment can allow them to become valuable members of society. Assessing populations at risk for developing mental health issues is an excellent way of preventing crime before it occurs. Furthermore, there needs to increased awareness of the symptoms, predisposing factors, and precipitating factors to ensure there are no misdiagnoses. Lastly, we need to break down the misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses. It will allow law enforcement officials and the public to not attribute mental illnesses with someone being dangerous.