Monday, 11 December 2017

Mental Stability in an Insane World

Several months ago I was following the trial of a young man who walked into a grocery store in 2016 and killed a female clerk.  The defense had played the "mentally unstable" card, saying that the man had suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and believed that the girl and her friends were plotting to kill him.  When he entered the store he thought that the girl had a gun in her pocket, which prompted him to take a pre-emptive strike.

Most times it's the job of the defense to come up with a plausible scenario that fits the available evidence without directly incriminating the accused.  However I had a great deal of difficulty believing this particular story.  The man barely knew any of the girls involved; he only came up with his explanation after reading some anonymous messages on social media.  The truth of the matter is probably that he was enraged that she turned him down when he asked her out on a date a few days prior.

I have stated many times that I dislike the "mentally unfit" defense ploy in court.  When someone is declared as such they don't go to jail at first, but are usually detained in a medical facility where they are "treated".  When they are deemed to be "cured" - or rather, mentally fit to stand trial - then they face a court, and more often than not receive a lesser sentence than they otherwise might have had.  The fact remains that regardless of their mental state, they still committed a crime and should be punished appropriately.

Yes, I concede that mental illness can affect anyone and can drive people to actions that they wouldn't think about under normal circumstances.  But pointing at it as being the root cause of a heinous crime goes too far.  Most intelligent people should know right from wrong, unless they have been purposely taught otherwise or "brainwashed".

Social media should share the blame as well.  Many people and organizations use it to disseminate falsehoods and extremism that will be taken as truth by those who are mentally vulnerable.  All one needs to do to see this is to glance at any controversial topic and there will be comments from people whose viewpoints are so off base as to be ridiculous.

In recent months I've had so much to deal with in my personal life that I rarely watch the news or follow social media discussions unless something directly pertains to my situation.  There is just too much hypocrisy, stupidity, and violence in the world for one person to fathom.

It's little wonder that society is slowly going insane.


  1. Just curious, have you ever known anyone who was diagnosed with schizophrenia?

    1. I do know that schizophrenia isn't always like the "multiple personalities" that's often portrayed in the movies and TV. I admit I don't fully understand the condition; I do know someone who has been diagnosed with it but she's on medication and she never talks about it.

    2. It remains however that too many people seem to use the insanity defense as a "get out of jail free" card: "I was insane at the time of the crime, therefore I did not know what I was doing and I do not deserve jail time."

  2. Unfortunately, too many people think of schizophrenia as "multiple personalities" when this is a completely different disorder. The "schiz" or split in schizophrenia is a break with reality, not a splitting of personalities.

    It's a condition that involves many different aspects, including the more dramatic symptoms that TV and film portray (hearing voices, delusions of grandeur, etc.) but also more subtle yet pervasive symptoms like warping of depth perception and paranoia that stems in part from feeling that the world is closing in on the individual.

    It's a condition that I would not wish on anyone, and one that can be exceedingly difficult to treat under the best circumstances. I've seen a great many people suffer through lack of psychiatric and social supports, overmedication, or outright abuse. Incidentally, some of the schizophrenics I've been warned were "very dangerous" were actually the sweetest, gentlest souls I've had the privilege to care for.

    As to your claim that too many people use an insanity defense, these are the statistics I was able to find: in the United States, 0.85% of accused attempt an insanity defense, and of these only 0.26% will be found not guilty by reason of insanity. It's an exceedingly rare thing to even attempt such a defense, and American prisons are literally overflowing with the mentally ill - most of whom were afforded very little in the way of either adequate psychiatric treatment or legal defense.

    When we read sensationalized media reports it's easy to believe that many people are getting away with murder, but that couldn't be further from the truth. It's important to look beyond the hype to get a clear picture of what's really happening in the courtrooms and in the prison system.