How Much Sympathy Should We Give to Mentally Ill Criminals?

[ By on December 18, 2014 ]

In July of 2013, a new mother, murdered her two children, a 3 three year old and an infant who were found alone in their home, badly injured. The mother’s body was found three days later in the Red River. This woman had been suffering from postpartum depression.

Andrea Kalfoglou, A professor at the University of Maryland, wrote an article sympathizing with the Mother and explaining the disorder. She explains the commonality of it (every one in eight mothers) and the psychological effects. For women with this disorder, her delusions seem real. It is impossible for her to live in reality, and is therefore acting completely on the psychological effects of her depression. Obviously no one choses to have this disorder. The question raised is how responsible is this woman for the crime she committed? How much should we sympathize with her? What is important to remember is that women suffering with this issue would be more likely seek help if she knew that people would be sympathetic of her mental illness. This is clearly a very heartbreaking topic, but to what extend is it acceptable to blame or not blame this mother?

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3 Comments on “How Much Sympathy Should We Give to Mentally Ill Criminals?”

  1. catepasquarelli

    This is an interesting conversation. I have done research into the genetics of depression (though, not postpartum depression, specifically) and antisocial personality disorder (think sociopathic behavior) which includes a great deal of criminal activities. The question of holding someone accountable for her/his behavior that is influenced by a biological condition is difficult. The public (and in this case, children) have a right to be protected from harm if it can be predicted and past behavior is often used to predict future behavior. So the questions in my mind are: How do we effectively treat psychiatric illness when we don’t know exactly how it arises? How do we treat psychiatric illness before it manifests in violence (which occurs in only a small percentage of people with mental illness)? How do we approach psychiatric illness in a preventative way if insurance coverage is more difficult for such conditions?

  2. catepasquarelli

    Cate,

    This is an important issues, and even though there is an increase in the knowledge about mental health, theres is still so much scientific uncertainty when it comes to disorders of the mind. Punishment and the prison system are sometimes about reformation, without proper care (therapy and the proper medication), throwing this mother in jail would not be just. So while I feel that the mother has to take responsibility for her actions, a harsh response
    would further the stigma about mental illness and make no difference in preventing future cases: “women suffering with this issue would be more likely seek help if she knew that people would be sympathetic of her mental illness”. I think it would also be interesting if you examined the role/fault of her doctor/family in this situation.

  3. catepasquarelli

    Cate,

    This is an important issues, and even though there is an increase in the knowledge about mental health, there is still so much scientific uncertainty when it comes to disorders of the mind. Punishment and the prison system are sometimes about reformation, without proper care (therapy and the proper medication), throwing this mother in jail would not be just. So while I feel that the mother has to take responsibility for her actions, a harsh response would further the stigma about mental illness and make no difference in preventing future cases. I think it would also be interesting if you examined the role/fault of her doctor/family in this situation.

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