What is the Connection Between Mental Illness and Crime?

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  • Written By: Susan Grindstaff
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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According to studies conducted by Harvard University and published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2009, mental illness and crime may be closely related. The study was conducted on prisoners who had been classified as mentally ill and off their medication at the time they committed their crimes. The study seemed to suggest that if these prisoners had been properly medicated, they might not have committed the crimes at all. Though some experts disagree with the actual numbers, most do agree that in some cases mental illness and crime are connected. People with mental illness also frequently become targets of other criminals, probably because their mental condition makes them more vulnerable.

Sometimes people suffering from mental illness do not get the care they need to function normally. This often leads to upheavals in their lives that sometimes puts them in dangerous situations. Studies seem to indicate that a great many homeless people are also suffering from mental illness, and for some of them, criminal behavior may be a means of survival.


Science has long recognized the link between mental illness and crime. One mental condition that is often associated with violent crime is called “temporary insanity.” It refers to a temporary condition when a person is not responsible for his or her own actions. Though these people are not insane, it is thought that during the time the crime was committed, true mental impairment existed. This type of condition is usually brought about by an extremely traumatic event.

Another mental condition often associated with violent crime is called “criminally insane.” This term frequently refers to psychopaths and sociopaths who often commit violent crimes. Unlike people who are temporarily insane, criminally insane individuals have a deep-rooted mental condition that often traces back to their childhood. There is some argument within the mental health community regarding how much responsibility some of these individuals have for their crimes. Some health professionals believe they do not know the difference between right and wrong, while other experts argue that the criminally insane are often well aware that their crimes are wrong.

Kleptomania is another mental disorder that generally shows a link between mental illness and crime. People with this mental disorder have an uncontrollable urge to steal. The items a kleptomaniac steals are often irrelevant to them and can be something as simple as a napkin ring from a restaurant. People who suffer from kleptomania are frequently arrested for shoplifting and other petty crimes.


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Post 5

To a degree, I do believe that mental illness can play a role in criminal activity. However; at the same time, I also believe that society has made it easy for people, in general, to come up with excuses. Society as a whole has definitely made it much easier for people to not accept the consequences for their actions.

The bottom line is, criminals and people alike know the difference between right and wrong. I understand that there is always the exception to the rule, regardless, I have been diagnosed with multiple forms of mental illness and I am not a career criminal. In actuality, I am a very productive member of society (I am not on medication). When I

don't do what is 'right', I feel horrible and feel the need to atone. Individuals with mental illness face societal stigma because of these criminals, forcing us to be ashamed and keep our illnesses hidden. Then you have these criminals that are looking for someone or something to blame their actions on, instead of owning up to their poor choices.

Children are given consequences for their actions and are not allowed to give their parents an excuse, so why should we allow full grown adults to give us excuses?

Post 3

What kind of mental illness treatment is available to men and women is prison. Can they overcome the illness which in many cases contributed to them being prosecuted, or are they doomed to suffer with their sick minds for the duration of their stay in jail?.

Post 2

I have a personal story of mental illness and crime. My brother has a very rough time of it as a young man. He was always getting in to some kind of trouble. He was arrested for drug possession, petty theft, public drunkenness, vandalism and other minor crimes. He was never a bad kid, he just couldn't seem to stay out of trouble.

Well, when he was in his mid 30s he was diagnosed as bi-polar and began to take medications. The change has been amazing. He has stayed out of trouble, has a full time job, is seeing a very nice woman and has big hopes and plans for himself that he never used to have. I believe that all his problems as a young man were the result of his mental problems. If he had only received treatment sooner he might have been able to avoid years of grief and struggle.

Post 1

Unfortunately there is a strong connection between mental illness and crime. And even more sadly, a number of the men and women who have been locked up in America's jails suffer from undiagnosed mental illnesses. If they received the care and the treatment that they needed they might never have committed the crimes they are being punished for.

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