It is important to consider the complexity of the relationship between mental health and criminal behavior and recognize that numerous factors can contribute to criminal actions. Mental health can sometimes be a contributing factor in criminal behavior, but it is essential to remember that not everyone who experiences mental health issues engages in criminal activity.
For some individuals, mental health issues may impair their judgment, impulse control and/or ability to interpret social cues, which could potentially lead to criminal behavior. In other cases, individuals who struggle with mental health challenges might self-medicate with illegal substances, increasing the risk of drug-related offenses.
When one thing leads to another
It is worth repeating – before discussing the ways in which mental health issues sometimes contribute to instances of criminal wrongdoing – that most people with mental health issues do not commit crimes and lead productive, law-abiding lives. With that important point made, the following health conditions do sometimes contribute to criminal behaviors:
- Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD): ASPD is characterized by a consistent pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others. Individuals with ASPD often exhibit traits such as impulsivity, deceitfulness, aggression and a lack of remorse for their actions. Due to these traits, people with ASPD might be more likely to engage in criminal behavior, such as theft, assault or other violent crimes.
- Substance use disorders: Substance abuse disorders involve the misuse of and dependence on at least one mind-altering drug and/or alcohol. Individuals who are struggling with addiction might engage in criminal activities to obtain substances, fund their addiction or may act in specific ways as a consequence of impaired judgment while under the influence. Substance use can also exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions, further increasing the risk of criminal behavior.
- Psychotic disorders: Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, are characterized by symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking and a general detachment from reality. In some cases, individuals who are experiencing severe psychotic episodes may become aggressive or violent due to their distorted perceptions of reality. This could potentially lead to criminal behavior.
In order to better understand and address the relationship between mental health and criminal behavior, it is important for society to invest in mental health care, early intervention and support services. Anyone who has a mental health condition and is facing criminal charges should seek professional legal guidance from someone who is familiar with the correlation between mental health and criminal behavior in order to better determine whether a mental health diagnosis may play a potentially favorable role in their defense strategy.