Crimes and mental illness

Something that happens almost too often is our assumption that someone who has commited a crime has a mental health issue. Why do we assume this? Because we cannot seem to understand how anyone in the right mind would do such terrible things like murder, rape, and stealing. But what we often forget is that not everyone who commits a crime is mentally ill. Some may be, but others may have other reasons for their actions. It is wrong to blame all actions on a mental health issue.

This happens in courts a lot. The criminal's lawyer will try hard to make the accused look as though he/she has a mental illness, and that is what caused them to do the crime. Often, crimes get blamed on bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, etc. If the person really is ill, then they deserve treatment. But does that mean that they are not to blame for what they did? Can having a mental health issue make you suddenly free from taking responsibility for you actions? No. Let's put it this way: if I stole something from a store last year while I was sick (which I did not, by the way...this is just an example!) and I blamed it on ED, would I be free from punishment? Likely not. But what if I blamed it on bipolar disorder? Would I still be punished? Maybe not.

The problem with this is that people come to look at mental illnesses as being fake or made up because they are so used to seeing mental illnesses be used as excuses for crimes. I have heard many people say 'well, that person must have a mental issue because he killed that lady' or 'she must be bipolar to have hurt her own children'. But what does that do for people who have mental illnesses? It downplays their illness. It makes it seem as though they must be criminal or completely psychotic because they have such an illness. It also means that people start to think of mental illnesses as being terrible and demoralizing or changing individuals. This just adds to the stigma that is already associated with mental illness. Instead of seeing patients with illnesses as needing treatment, we begin to see them as crazy people who can act out at anytime.

What do we learn? Every person is different, even if they have the same mental illness as another person. Not everyone who has a mental illness is a criminal, and not every criminal has a mental illness. To blame people's actions on a mental illness all the time is wrong because it takes the responsibility off of fhe person. I agree that to a certain extent, certain actions may be the result of a mental illness. But we cannot blame EVERY SINGLE thing that a person does on their illness. When I was sick, I was mean to my parents when they made me eat. That was because of my mental illness, ED. In this case, it WAS the illness that caused my actions. But if I had gone out and punched my neighbour in the face, would that be because of ED? No. We need to stop using mental illnesses an another word for insanity and start seeing the term as what it is: a reference to a serious disorder that can change the way a person thinks or behaves, that debiliates an individual, and that causes severe impairment in their lives. Mental illnesses are REAL illnesses and they cause a lot of distress in patients. Not every patient with a mental illness is violent or psychotic. We need to be careful with our words and how we use the term 'mental illness' because this can say a lot about our own opinions about these disorders. Also, be aware of what you believe in society and from the media. Not all people with mental illnesses are criminals, and sometimes, it takes a bit more information to make a judgment on someone you don't know.

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