The debate that considers the relationship between mental illness and crime is on-going. Where the media quite consistently provides a negative portrayal, psychiatry experts provide years of research and evidence to suggest that the link is far less than reported. Further still, that people with a mental health problem are more likely to be victims, not perpetrators, of violent crime. It is important that prejudices about the causal link between crime and sufferers of mental illness be put aside and to look at the available research and evidence.
Equally important is to consider that 1 in 3 of us will suffer with a mental illness in our lifetime. Within that number many will not seek medical advice. This is partly because of a general misconception of what a mental illness is, and how it manifests itself. There are upwards of 100 mental disorders that psychiatry experts have researched and diagnosed. It is expected that this number will continue to grow. When we consider the relationship between mental illness and crime, a missed diagnosis can make accurate figures difficult to achieve.
Whether or not a psychiatric illness is a contributing factor to crime, there are a number of experiences and situations that must be considered as risk categories for violence and crime. According to Mind, the mental health charity, they include:
• Early age exposure to violence or abuse
• Involved in unstable relationships
• Difficulty to find or remain in employment
• Substance misuse and abuse
• Previous record of violence
• Gender –where men have a greater tendency to be violent
Add a mental illness on top of the mix and the potential for violent criminal activity may increase further.
In criminal defence cases, a psychiatry expert witness will be able to assess an individual, taking into consideration their psyche, whether or not there have been previous convictions and mental health referrals, and their history. In doing so, they can produce a report that can be used in court. A psychiatry expert witness is also qualified to give an independent opinion to the court. Their contribution can strengthen a criminal case and be of benefit when it comes to the final decision.
There is a somewhat symbiotic relationship between mental illness and substance misuse. An increase in one can often cause an increase of effect in the other. Research shows that substance abuse may increase symptoms of mental illness and that mental illness may lead a person to substance misuse or dependence. In fact, the number of individuals suffering with a mental illness and who simultaneously misuse substances has increased by 62%, according to RC Psych. This is referred to as dual diagnosis and is common amongst offenders. Unsurprisingly, where drugs and alcohol are involved, the likelihood of criminal activity is proven to increase.
Cuts in the NHS budget have forced funding to be spread more thinly than in previous years over most health services. In spite of a general increase in the understanding of some mental health problems, funding in the sector has taken a hit. As a result vulnerable individuals are not given the support or treatment that they require to live full, normal lives. Depleting opportunities to diagnose and treat a person with a mental illness, because of cuts, means sufferers are at risk of being in situations of difficulty and confusion. Consequently, the likelihood of violence towards or from the individual increases.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists reports that forensic psychiatry experts working in prisons found as much as 9 out of 10 offenders report some kind of mental health problem. When it comes to a criminal defence case, a psychiatrist expert witness is often required by a solicitor to ensure a fair and justified decision is made by the court which best addresses the vulnerable individual’s mental health needs. Their input is often deciding in whether the offender will carry out their sentence in hospital or in prison.
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