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Critically examine the claim that
mental health causes criminal behaviour.

Lawfully, a crime is usually defined
as an act that is against the law which can result in a fine or imprisonment.
Crimes such as, murder, theft, rape, drunk driving are all common examples of
punishable crimes. Though, some well-known criminologists have recently said
(e.g. Sampson and Laub 1993; Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990) that to understand
crime you must focus on the important characteristics of all criminal
behaviours rather than focusing on one specific criminal act, instead of trying
to pick out each crime separately (robbery, rape, homicide, heroin use) we must
try and understand what is common between these crimes. 

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The behavioural definition of crime
is focused on a particular personality profile which causes the most disturbing
sorts of crime (Gofffredson and Hirshci, 1990). Most criminal behaviours
include the use of force, fraud or stealth to attain material or symbolic
possessions. Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990, explains that delinquency is a style
of planned behaviour which is characterized by self-centeredness, the jealousy
of wanting what others have and low self-discipline.  Thoughtless individuals find law breaking an
attractive style of behaviour because it provides immediate gratification by
committing crimes which are easy or simple tactics. The criminals find it
thrilling to commit these crimes even though it is risk taking but doesn’t
require many skills or planning.

Psychological researchers have examined the relationship
between personality and criminality. Researchers first looked at the variances
between the personality structures of criminals and non-criminals. Majority of
this work has been carried out in prisons, where psychologists gave out
questionnaires to prisoners which focused on personality which was called the
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory(Brewer, 2000). Professor Robert
Hare and his colleagues revised the questionnaire, which was used in the
Canadian mental health and criminal justice systems. The results from the
studies showed that inmates are typically more thoughtless, unfriendly and
immature compared to non-criminals (Cooke, Forth and Hare, 1998).

Researchers in second, looked at the amount of literature
that is devoted to the prediction of behaviour. Criminologists wanted to see
how individuals would respond to prison discipline and whether he or she will
try and avoid crime after release. The results were vague (Cooke, Forth and Hare,

Personality characteristics seemed to be uncertain predictors
of future offending, however, when you collect other variables such as personal
history, you can see the prediction rise significantly. Third, numerous studies
observe the degree to which normal personality dynamics operate in criminals.
The results from those studies suggests that personality dynamics are in most
cases similar to those who are not criminals (Cooke, Forth and Hare, 1998). Social
criminals (those who commit crimes with other criminals), for example, are more
likely to be outgoing and self-confident that criminals who act on their own.
Finally, researchers have also tried to measure individual differences between
groups of offenders. Many studies have compared the personality characteristics
of first time offenders with those who are repeat offenders as well as this,
other researchers have looked into violent offenders with nonviolent offenders
and murderers with drug offenders. In result, prisoners have been categorized
in result with their personality type (Cooke, Forth and Hare, 1998).

Overall, it shows that; ‘the data has not shown any major
differences between criminal and non-criminal psychology’, therefore,
personality testing has not been found to be separated between criminals and


Despite these findings, whether
criminals have similar personality characteristics continues to be argued. Are
criminals more destructive, dominant and calculating that non-criminals? Do
they lack responsibility? Evidently, many criminals are aggressive; many have
controlled and manipulated many situations, and many do not take any
responsibility for their actions. However, are such characters similar to all
criminals? (Yochelson and Samenow, 2004)
Samuel Yochelson and Stanton Samenow considered these questions. In the
criminal personality, the psychologist department addressed their increasing
concerns with explanations of criminality. The researchers have found that criminals
in common have abnormal thinking patterns that leads them to make decisions
that causes them the commit crimes. In accordance to the researchers findings,
criminals are aggressive people who feel a sense of dominance, but do not want
to be held responsible for their actions and think very highly of themselves. Anyone
who wants to question what they believe as their own self-image causes a strong
response from them and often can be a violent reaction. Many other
criminologists have used different methods to study the correlations between
criminality and personality (Yochelson and Samenow, 2004).  For example, researchers have reviewed the
findings of a sample of studies that use the California Psychological
Inventory. The research from the inventory revealed a similar personality
profile. The results of the criminals tested, showed notable comparisons in
their lack of self-control, impatience and their lack of accountability (Hogan,
Johnson and Briggs, 1997). Even though studies on
criminal personality is important, some psychologists are worried that if the
focus is solely on the personality of criminals to find answers for their criminal’s
behaviour, researchers may look past other important reasons. For example, the
state of the social environment in which the crime had taken place, their
childhood or their school environment while growing up (Hogan,
Johnson and Briggs, 1997).

Edmond Yu who attended York university studied pre-medicine from 1982-1984 when
he was accepted into medicine at the university of Toronto. A while after this,
in 1985 he was taken into custody by police and taken into the Clarke Institute
of Psychiatry and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia (Hall and
Hwang, 2001). In
1997, Edmond Yu, apparently attacked a woman at a bus stop, then took off on a
bus. Police tried to get on the bus after Yu and according to witness
statements, he had raised a small hammer, as some thought this was a toy.
Police later shot the man, which killed him (Nunes and Simmie, 2002) An inquest was done on the police of
wrongdoing but was later cleared. Although the police were cleared of
wrongdoing, the report, however, suggested many changes to focus on the need to
house homeless men that have mental health problems. In effect, a basis to fund
housing for mentally ill homeless men has been set up in Yu’s name during the
years of his death (Nunes and Simmie, 2002). This unfortunate event and the
problems leading up to it are distressing and does raise questions about how
someone’s mental capacity plays in criminal behaviour. Could this situation
have been dealt with in a different way? How should the Criminal Justice system
deal with mentally ill people? Criminologists have researched and are still
researching a great deal of conclusion that can bring us closer to understand
clearly the relationship between criminal behaviour and mental disorder.  

If you are diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the most common myths that
people would stigmatize you for is being violent. Schizophrenia is commonly
known to cause violence that any other type of mental disorders, but this
stigma is not necessarily true (Schneider, 2012)
A lot of media reports and articles reinforce the idea that those who suffer
from schizophrenia is violent whilst ignoring the other factors of this
unfortunate condition, especially the increasing numbers of suicide and do not
give us any useful information on the condition in general. This topic is sadly
not something that the caring profession feels uncomfortable talking about. The
dangerous behaviour often caused is seen to the professionals as a let-down on
their part, rather than letting the blame fall on government who fail to fund
mental health services, so that there could be change (Schneider, 2012)

There is no real evidence that those who suffer from schizophrenia
are violent, rather the case is that those who do have schizophrenia are more
likely to be at risk of causing dangerous behaviour, such as suicide or
violence, while they are not feeling well (Schneider, 2012)
Even though there are a small number who have become violent because they are
suffering from symptoms of the disorder such as getting hallucinations or
delusions with their thinking. Studies have shown that, when it comes to the
dangerousness, it is more the delusions that are more influential in causing the
bad behaviour rather than the hallucinations. Unfortunately, suffers of this
disorder are more likely to harm themselves and are successful in killing
themselves (Schneider, 2012).



Psychiatrists have found it difficult to come up with a
finding that can help them decide which offenders are mentally ill.
Psychiatrist Seymour L Halleck, says that the issue is in the growing concept
of mental illness (Halleck, 1987). Usually, the medicals profession
saw mental illness as a complete condition or status- you are either diagnosed
with psychosis or you are not. Should this be a concern to us? Halleck proposed
that it should be a concern to us. ‘Even though this type of thinking is not
well-suited with present psychiatric knowledge,’ he writes, ‘it still has a
large amount of influence upon psychiatric practice- talking about the
criminal, it leads to a stiff understanding between the sick criminal and the
normal criminal (Halleck, 1987).

Alongside Halleck, other psychiatrists, such as Karl Menninger, theorise mental
functioning as a procedure. Mental illness should not be measured apart from
mental health- both exist on the same range. In our lives we all have time
where we move along the range from health towards illness Given this reason,
diagnosing someone ‘criminal’ or ‘mentally ill’ can possibly oversee the
significant gradations in mental health or illnesses (Menninger,1985). The
treatment done for millions of North Americans by the American Psychiatric
Association shows that mental disorders are affecting people’s lives daily.
Different types of mental health problems may exist, but we still try to
differentiate from people who are mentally ill and from those who are not
(APA,2018).  One area that leaves us
confused and up for discussion is the affiliation between criminal behaviour
and mental disorder. A few mental illnesses can be seen within the general and
criminal population such as severe depression, bipolar or manic depression
however one disorder that may be more common within prisoners is schizophrenia.

R.Roesch , a Canadian researcher, did a study  of pre-trial population, which found the
common mental disorders to be 15.6 percent. He stresses the significance of
‘co-occurring disorders’. There is a connection between mental disorders and
the misuse of drugs and alcohol abuse within the prison population (Roesch,

Leaving the discussion on the debates that surround the definition on mental
illness and the prevalence it has among the prison population, in fact that
researchers do agree on it that there is an increase in the numbers of mentally
ill offenders who are also involved within the criminal justice system (Roesch,
1999). With the mental hospitals being closed that resulted with emptying the
mental hospitals as developments in the chemical therapies allowed mentally ill
individuals to live in the community. The police are not allowed to use mental
institutions as an option if they are dealing with mentally ill individuals.
They have no other option but to arrest the individual and keep them in a
prison. The behaviour of the individuals has likely not changed, but what has
happened is that the response from the institutions to the behaviour have
changed. The deinstitutionalization of the mental hospitals means that they can
no longer take on any new patients, resulting in police turning to the criminal
justice system as a way of dealing with the misbehaving from individuals
(Roesch, 1999).

Notably, we must also think
about other factors that sometimes happen alongside of mental disorders, which
also might be related to criminal behaviour. Those who suffer with mental
disorders could possibly not have the resources to get the correct treatments,
may live in a disadvantaged area that have high rates of crime and
victimization and could possibly experience the stress and pressure living in
those poor conditions (Hess and DeLeon, 2014). It may be living in these structural
circumstances that are prone to criminal behaviour as opposed to mental
disorders alone (Hess and DeLeon,2014). The Mental health association reports
that individuals with serious mental disorders are twice as more likely to be
sufferers of violence that other individuals within the society, typically
because of the poverty or substance misuse. Some of these issues could make a
person with mental disorder more exposed to being attacked which increases the
chance that the mentally ill individual could also respond to the attack with
violence (Hess and DeLeon, 2014).


However, there are some
cases that come as an exception to what we seen in the relationship between
mentally ill and criminal behaviour. If we consider the case of David
Carmichael, he was known nationwide as a fitness promoter who was married with
two kids. On July 31st, 2004, he took his son (11 years old) to a
hotel and strangled him (CBC News, 2005). David Carmichael was charged with
first degree murder, however was not found responsible for his actions due to
his mental disorder ( CBC News, 2005). He had severe depression and was taking
antidepressants. Unfortunately, the side effects of the antidepressants were
psychotic delusions and in David Carmichaels case the thoughts he had was that
his son was living in hell as his child had learning disabilities and thought
his child was going to become violent towards other children (CBC News, 2005)
The drug that he used and the influence it has on his behaviour was not given
in evidence in court, specialist is not sure on what caused the psychotic


Overall, there is contradictory
evidence regarding the relationship between mental illness and crime.
Currently, many researchers agree that most criminals are not mentally ill and
that most offenders know the difference between right and wrong (London Health Committee,
2017). Surely, some offenders do show signs of mental illness, however, in most
cases offenders are less likely to be mentally ill. Besides this, mentally ill
offenders are less likely to be violent and are less likely to re-offend than
other criminals, especially if they are receiving treatment. Nevertheless, some
groups of offenders with mental health issues do reoffend (London Health Committee,
2017).  Researcher, Dr Hare, has been
working on a checklist that can show the likeliness of violence among a certain
category- Psychopathy.


In the nineteenth century
Psychopathy was described by the English physician James C. Prichard as ‘Moral
Insanity’ and by Gina Lombroso as ‘irresistible atavistic impulses.’ Now, these
illnesses are commonly known as psychopathy, sociopathy or antisocial
personality-  a nature considered by the
failure to learn from experience, has no comfort and has no guilty feelings (Cooke,
Forth and Hare, 1998). In Hares study he found that a total of 39 percent of
the Canadian prison population in his sample had suffered from a mental
disorder and around 20-60 percent of the prisoners fit into the criteria, but
only 3 percent of men and less than a percent of women in the prison population
suffer from psychopathy (Cooke, Forth and Hare, 1998).


Psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley
sees psychopathy as a serious illness even if patients may not seem ill.
Cleckley says that, psychopaths seem to have great mental health; but rather,
what we see is only a ‘mask of sanity.’ 
At first, they do not look like they need any special attention and seem
free from any sort of disorders and can come across as reliable and honest However,
after a while, it can be clearly seen that they have no sense of responsibility
(Clckley, 1982). Psychopaths are dishonest, will cover the truth and does not
feel any sort of guilt. They lie and cheat and are quick to react in verbal and
physical abuse without giving it any thought and it appears if you do suffer
from this illness that they do not learn from negative experiences, and this
may be because they are not capable of experiencing anxiety in the way most of
us can (Cleckley, 1982). They have no fear in them when it comes to negative
outcomes for inappropriate behaviour. As children we get scared of our parents’
disapproval for our wrongdoing, but, it appears psychopaths do not have this
same thought process (Cleckley, 1982).


One psychopath who had no
remorse for the murders he had committed is, Clifford Olson, who tortured and
murdered 11 boys and girls. He was sentenced to like imprisonment in January
1982 for the crimes he had committed. According to Hare, Olson was
deemed as a ‘prototypical psychopath’ (Broderick, 2016). An article written
about him at the time of his trial could help us understand the type of
personality he had. The article described him as a show-off, a bully, a liar
and a thief. He was an aggressive man with a very short temper, however, when
he wanted to impress people he knew how to be charming and knew how to sweet
talk people. He had the gift of being able to talk the talk, but he was just an
out and out liar (Broderick, 2016). He wanted to test people to the limits and
see how far he could go before people realise. After a while many people
realised that they could not believe anything he said because he continuously
told lies. We can see how manipulative he is, as he convinced the court that he
would give out the information of where he hid the bodies of his victims if the
court paid him 100 000 dollars. From the time of his sentence, Olson did not
stop at killing the victims, but he has also continued to bring grief among the
families by sending them letters about what he had done to their children. To
all the anguish he caused, he never felt guilty or remorse. At the times of his
trial he would smile and posture whenever a camera was on to him, which made
him feel like he was an important celebrity rather than a man who had committed
a heinous crime (Broderick, 2016).  Psychologists
like Hans Eysenck also say that psychopaths, do not have a great arousal level;
they try to get motivated by others, find it difficult to learn through their
own experience, are quite thoughtless and do not suffer from a great deal of
anxiety from any of their wrongdoings like non-psychopaths would. For
psychologists, and many other people, this is a major behavioural type that
comes with weighty challenges (Cooke, Forth and Hare, 1998).

For the past 20 years,
biologists have been following in the tradition of Cesare Lombroso and Raffaele
Garofalo, in means to find the answer on human behaviour. Geneticists, have
argued that the tendency to act brutally or destructively in certain
circumstances may be inherited. To put it differently, even though criminals
are not born as criminals, the tendency to be vicious or commit a crime could have
been present at birth. To show that some qualities are hereditary, geneticists
have studied children born from criminal parents but was raised by non-criminal
adoptive parents. They wanted to see whether their behaviour would be more like
the adoptive parents or more like their biological parents. The findings of
this research will play an important role in the argument on genetics versus
environment.  Other biologists, have a
different approach. Some consider whether brain damage or poor nutrition results
in delinquent behaviour.

Bio-criminology is a study on the physical parts of psychological disorders. It
is known that adults who are suffering from depression show irregularities in
their brain waves during their sleep, they can experience a troubled nervous
system functioning and show biochemical irregularities (Beaver, 2010). Doing
research on children with depression also revealed these same physical
problems; moreover, their mature relatives also showed increasingly high rates
of depression also. In actual fact, a child whose parents also suffer from
depression are four times more than a normal child to also have a similar
illness. Researchers also believe that depression is a genetic condition that
comes alight in psychological and physical disorders. Up until recently,
physicians seem as though they were missing the key point in their research and
treatments of depressed adults and children because they ignored the
physiological features. (Beaver, 2010).


Many sufferers of mental
health problems tend not to seek help as they worry of the stigma that comes
with the issues of mental illness, or they may that they may be arrested if
they tell people about the violent thoughts that they get. If sufferers of
mental health problems felt that they could talk to someone then they would
feel that they could get more help easily (England and Sim, 2009). Sometimes as
well, even if people do try and seek help, the right sort of care may not be
readily available for them. A programme called Mind, is campaigning for there
to be a better service for the mentally ill patient and an early prevention
programme that can give them the help they need. This is included for all
mental health patients including schizophrenia (England and Sim, 2009).

There is a greater risk when
those who have a mental disorder is abusing drugs and alcohol. They may be
using drugs and alcohol because they see it as a way of relieving stress and
scary symptoms that they frequently get and especially if they are not using
other care services to help them.  There
is a recommendation that the support systems there are, should take more time
and thought into prioritising interventions that can help sufferers try to
avoid this sort of violent behaviour. Different health professions can work
together, which could help to manage and recognize the risk factors. The main
aim of this is that, if you can successfully assess the problem, you can then
put the support and care in place to stop any chance of violent behaviour (England
and sims, 2009). Though, it can be tough to be very precise with what is
assessed because mental disorders such as schizophrenia is not always common. It
is great if someone is assessed and is properly recognized at being a high risk
of causing violent behaviour, this same assessment can incorrectly identify
many other people. It can predict who is at a high risk of committing a crime,
but it can’t tell you who amongst those people assessed is going to go and kill
or harm someone (England and Sim, 2009). 



The purpose of this essay was to examine if mental disorders
can cause criminal behaviour, and we found that there are some cases in which
the disorders have caused serious violent behaviour. Looking closely at some of
the case studies, we found that the side effect of the medication can cause the
violent outbreak. Even though researchers haven’t found an alternative that
works, it should be important that they do research on finding alternatives for
medication that would help with the mental conditions, if it is possible.

Some would say that mental disorders do cause criminal behaviour, and as much
as one can agree with this, it is important to look at the factors the surround
the real cause for criminal behaviour, as it could be environmental or genetic
defaults and sometimes they do not have the right means to get care or
treatment for the condition and so the condition gets worse and then so could
their tendency to become violent but if they were getting treatment their
chances of reoffending could be slim.