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Mental Illness and Criminal Insanity: Is There a Link?

Stereotypes continue to linger around mental illness. However it is time we as a society dig deeper and learn more about what it means to be mentally ill. People who suffer from mental illness are not the criminals. It seems to be the exact opposite. They are in fact more likely to be the victims.
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What it means to be mentally ill is grossly misunderstood. Due to this lack of knowledge towards a very complex and elusive disease a blanket of mystery surrounds mental illness. It is the ignorance surrounding this debilitating disease that leaves it vulnerable to exploitation and ghastly stereotypes.

One of these exploitations could possibly be a plea of NGRI (not guilty by reason of insanity) in a criminal investigation. This is when an individual who has committed a heinous crime turns to mental illness as a defense. They use a widely misunderstood condition as a scapegoat for their immoral actions.

It is time to shed some light on what it means to be mentally ill and what people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness are and are not capable of. According to a infographic produced by the BBC, By Reason of Insanity, approximately 90 percent of individuals who suffer from various forms of mental illness are not harmful and do not exhibit violent inclinations.

Based on this fact it would seem that people who claim mental illness is the cause of the crimes they commit possess a twisted and distorted view on what it truly means to be mentally ill. People experience various forms of mental illness and to many different degrees. They may feel lost, lonely, depressed, anxious, alienated or misunderstood but this does not make them violent.

Just because someone commits a crime does not automatically make them mentally ill. Committing a crime is conscious decision. It is when someone knows what they are doing is wrong but they decide to go through with it anyway. Their actions were their choice executed by their own free will.

However, if 90 percent of mentally ill individuals are non-violent then what about the other 10 percent? By Reason of Insanity suggests that violence can occur in severe cases of mental illness and in cases that are not treated with medical care. Essentially it would seem that one would need a perfect storm of events to occur in order to lead to a violent outburst.

However this data cannot be ignored and suggests that in rare cases an individual who suffers from extreme mental illness and who is not receiving proper treatment and medication could lose their ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not real.

Perhaps they temporarily lose that innate ability to determine right from wrong. A broken moral compass that still has potential to be fixed. It is possible that in a true moment of insanity they lose touch with reality and fueled by guilt, fear, anger, remorse or something else entirely commit a heinous act they had no intention of doing. It is these people who should not be incarcerated but receiving care in a mental health facility. However this is not the majority but the extreme minority.

By Reason of Insanity reports that less than one percent of criminals who plea not guilty by reason of insanity are acquitted and that nearly 70 percent of them retract their plea. Based on this knowledge it would seem that more often than not an insanity plea is used to avoid imprisonment rather than a true case of a mentally ill individual who is in desperate need of medical care.

The truth is that people who suffer from mental illness are not violent, they are not crazy, they are simply human and misunderstood. Ironic to the stigma that follows them, By Reason of Insanity reports that people who suffer from mental illness are actually 2.5 times more likely to be a victim of a crime.

In the end it is not simply black and white. As every person on this world is unique so are the crimes people commit. Every person is different and every criminal case is different. We cannot assume that people who commit crimes are insane or mentally ill. This would be misrepresenting that vast majority of peaceful people who live and battle mental illness on a daily basis. However this does not exempt the possibility that in fact some of these criminals have completely lost touch with reality.

How can we tell for sure? Only they know. Only the people who commit these crimes know what they were feeling and what was going through their minds in the moments before during and after committing a crime. Did their grasp on reality truly slip or did they use mental illness as a mask to hide behind their premeditated acts of crime?

Stereotypes continue to linger around mental illness. However it is time we as a society dig deeper and learn more about what it means to be mentally ill. People who suffer from mental illness are not the criminals. It seems to be the exact opposite. They are in fact more likely to be the victims.

What do you think?