Struggling with mental health challenges comes with a lot of social stigma. Many people have inaccurate ideas about what mental health challenges mean for an individual. For example, many people wrongfully assume that those diagnosed with personality disorders or other mental health issues are dangerous and likely to be criminals.
However, crime statistics actually show that those with mental health disorders are more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators of criminal offenses. Those with mental health challenges are often victimized by people within their families or entrusted with their care specifically because they are more vulnerable than the average person.
Despite that, there is a known association between struggling with mental health challenges and facing criminal charges. What does research show about the connection between mental health and criminal activity?
People who break the law often need help
Individuals who don’t receive proper mental health care may act out in ways that they would not with the proper treatment. The criminal justice system often only serves to worsen someone’s pre-existing mental health condition.
Some research indicates that roughly two-fifths of those in state custody acknowledge having pre-existing mental health challenges. Despite how many people in state facilities may struggle with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or personality disorders, treatment is not always readily available.
In fact, the experience of incarceration and the social stigma that follows a conviction can potentially worsen someone’s mental health challenges. They might then be more prone to recidivism after they serve their initial sentence. Those who receive treatment instead of punishment after violating the law may have a better chance of maintaining their freedom and properly complying with the law in the future.
Many times, effective treatment instead of incarceration could break the cycle of criminal offending when mental health challenges are the underlying factor contributing to someone’s criminal activity. It can be very difficult for those struggling with mental health issues to admit that they need help, especially if they find themselves locked in an adversarial process, such as criminal proceedings.
Being honest about one’s struggles and looking into options for support could make all the difference for those accused of breaking the law who struggle with a mental health issue.