From Mentally Ill to Mentally Insane
The term “mentally insane” usually sparks a common thought in everyone’s mind. We usually refer to the criminally insane as those who commit heinous crimes with the intent of hurting someone, but when referring to the mentally insane we think about illnesses that cause the criminal to have trouble understanding why what they did was wrong. These criminals could have an abundant amount of different illnesses, but each illness tells a different story for each criminal. The biggest question in our minds is why? Why do those who are convicted of crimes and are mentally insane commit the crimes that they do? There is a simple, yet extremely complex reason for this: mental illness has the ability to control a person’s entire mind, body, and life. The mental illnesses that many of the criminally insane suffer from causes various neurological effects within the person. Whether it is cognitive dysfunction, delusions, hallucinations, or feelings of being possessed by the devil, many of these convicted murders have a story of being compelled to commit the crime. It seems so simple to grasp the concept of mental illness when relating it to the criminally insane, but there is a much bigger idea that we do not quite fully understand.
Many victims of mental illness are drawn to darkness and evil due to the “voices” they hear in their heads. Many mental illness’ cause people to hallucinate or have delusions of things and voices that are not really there. This is most common in schizophrenic patients. As proven by Michael Brook, Robert E. Hanlon, and John Stratton, in “Murder and Psychosis: Neuropsychological Profiles of Homicide Offenders With Schizophrenia,” patients with this illness are “…2.5-7%” more “…at risk for violence perpetration…” This is due to the negative neurocognitive effects that this illness has including problems with attention, working memory, executive functions, and verbal memory. The study conducted by Brook, Hanlon, and Stratton supported the hypothesis that those with this disorder are more susceptible to falling to violent actions when they feel threatened, endangered, or as if it is the only way to fix the problem at hand. This could be whether a major problem in their mind, or a minor predicament that simply manifests and leads them to snap. Many of us cannot understand what it is like to have a constant voice in our minds telling us that something we were taught was wrong, is right in that moment. Having someone constantly repeating to you that murdering a loved one was the only way to save them, and save yourself, much like Andrea Yates had dealt with, is not a concept that is in the slightest bit considered by an ordinary person, but to some of the mentally insane, this concept is just an everyday occurrence.
The phrase “not guilty by reason of insanity” was put into place because of this concept that many people cannot understand because their mental health is not on the same wavelength as these criminals. Mental illness does not excuse the behavior of these criminals, but it gives us a closer look into the minds of the murderer. In the justice system we try so hard to figure out why the crime was committed. Many cases are not a case of who did it, but they are cases of why did this person do it? Often times, the justice system is presented with people who commit crimes with the intent of getting something out of it. A branch of criminals could be those who we see as mentally insane due to their pleasure of committing the crime, but that would not fall under the defense of not guilty by reason of insanity. Many cases involve murders resulting from revenge, crimes of passion, or someone who likes the thrill of committing the crime. In patients of schizophrenia and many other mental illnesses and disorders, they feel that the crime at hand must be committed in order to save themselves or someone close to them. Often times, they do not understand why they have done what they did, but they know that in their mind it was a necessary task.
Andrea Yates was on of these patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, who felt that the murder of her five children was necessary to save them from the devil. She was not only a patient with schizophrenia, but also multiple other mental illnesses. Through suffering with all the mental illnesses that she was diagnosed with, she felt that the devil would talk to her and tell her what a horrible job as a parents she was doing. This led to her to believe that her parenting would result in her children having issues when they get older, or it would result in childhood trauma, even though she was not a horrible, or abusive parent to her children. With her diagnosis of schizophrenia came the constant regret of having children, constant worry she was emotionally hurting them, and the constant fear that something bad would happen. Her reasoning, as Roche described in “Andrea Yates: More to the Story,” from “The New York Times,” was “[Her] children weren’t righteous. They stumbled because [she] was evil. The way [she] was raising them they could never be saved…” The reasoning behind the horrible crime committed was because her mental illness led her to believe that the only way to save them from “[perishing] in the fires of hell” was to kill them. In reality, we know that this idea is not plausible and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but to Andrea, this was the only escape from the voices and the only way to protect her children from herself and the devil.
The biggest dilemma in these cases is trying to decipher who is mentally insane and who is the criminally insane. The intent to commit the crime at hand versus the compulsion that is forced upon the individual who does not know right from wrong is an issue that continues on today. Mental illness causes people to do many things, because of it affecting and deteriorating their cognitive abilities. Andrea Yates was one person that was affected by many mental illnesses that led her to commit a crime that we cannot even wrap our heads around doing. As diagnoses continued to pile up, she continued to get treatment, but never fully recovered. This is just one person in the mix of thousands of people convicted of homicide and put in prison. Many people are given the help required to make them better, but even more convicted criminals are put into prisons and neglected of the help that they need. Prisons could be much less populated if mental illness was found in many of the cases that have been overlooked. Many people are found guilty for their crime, but how many of those people are guilty by reason of insanity?
Kesling, G. (2006, September 1). Ask the expert: The Case of Andrea Yates. Retrieved from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=5&sid=fe9d653a-63d8-4d3b-b270-20f26b85b43b%40sessionmgr102
Roche, T. (2002, March 18). Andrea Yates: More To The Story. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,218445,00.html
Stratton, J.; Brook, M.; Hanlon, R.E. (2016, February 10). Murder and Psychosis: Neuropsychological Profiles of Homicide Offenders with Schizophrenia. Retrieved from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=10&sid=b13e729e-d665-41b4-9734-94c9ecff5647%40pdc-v-sessmgr03