The phrase, mental illness, seems to have started cropping up a lot in criminal cases. There’s a reason for this. For the first time, we finally understand different types of mental illnesses and how these conditions can lead to some people doing things, including committing violent crimes, that they wouldn’t otherwise have done.
As the medical and judicial system gains more insight into mental illnesses and trauma, they have reviewed old cases. They’ve discovered that many perpetrators of heinous crimes had a history of mental illness. One of the areas where this is most obvious is with some of the world’s most terrifying serial killers, many of whom suffered head trauma and traumatic brain injuries while they were young.
As our understanding of mental illness improves, some people have started to ask if having a history of traumatic brain injuries or mental health concerns is an acceptable reason for committing crimes.
The reality is that there is no correct answer to that question. Therefore, each case must be looked at and evaluated individually.
While it’s likely that the debate about mental illness and whether it can be used to justify a crime will likely rage on for decades, we should be able to use knowledge of mental illnesses to alter one significant aspect of criminal justice. Rather than simply punishing individuals who have mental illnesses and commit crimes, perhaps it’s time to explore the idea of exploring how these individuals can be rehabilitated so that when they’re released from prison, they’re able to become valued members of the community.
It’s imperative to understand that while many crimes are committed by individuals with both diagnosed and undiagnosed mental illnesses, you shouldn’t assume that all people with mental illnesses are criminals. The opposite is true. In fact, Statpearls had this to say on the subject.
“The popular belief is that people with mental illness are more prone to commit acts of violence and aggression. The public perception of psychiatric patients as dangerous individuals is often rooted in the portrayal of criminals in the media as “crazy” individuals. A large body of data suggests otherwise. People with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator. This bias extends all the way to the criminal justice system, where persons with mental illness get treated as criminals, arrested, charged, and jailed for a longer time in jail compared to the general population.”
How do you feel about how the judicial system currently handles the issue of mental illness?