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Mental Illness and the Insanity Defense May 30, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Uncategorized.

I read an interesting article regarding mental illness on the front page of The Seattle Times yesterday (May 29, 2011).  The article concerned the insanity defense and the ability to be mentally competent to stand trial.

In the article, the author cited the case of Jared Lee Loughner, age 22, who shot and killed 6  people as well as injuring 12 others, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, D- AZ.  He was found incompetent to stand trial by a federal judge last week.  He is now being forced to take antipsychotic drugs with the hope that he can be medicated into a sound enough frame of mind so he can face charges.

One of the concepts this route of medicating someone to “sanity” doesn’t take into consideration are the effects of these medications.  In my case, although I hadn’t committed a crime,  I was forced by the government to be medicated (that’s what involuntary commitment is all about) with the hope that I would come out of my psychosis. Although the task was accomplished, the price was high. The same medication that brought me out of my psychosis also smashed my personality and identity into smithereens. So who, exactly, came out of the identity  tunnel on the other side?  It wasn’t the real me.  That person is dead.

About a year ago, I met a young (25-30 years old)  man who had committed a heinous crime while in the throes of a paranoid schizophrenic break with reality.  Let’s call him Tom. In Tom’s psychotic world, a group of people waited outside his home for him to leave the house.  They planned to rape and kill him once he came outside.  Then, he realized they intended to rape and kill his pregnant wife in addition to himself.  Once he realized this, he decided that it would be better to end her life at his own hand than expose her to the horrible death awaiting her at the hands of these strangers.  He pulled the trigger on his wife and unborn child, convinced that it was the best possible solution to a horrible problem. His medicated self knows that she had no clue what hit her.

In his case, the jury found him insane, sentencing him to 5 years in our local State-run mental hospital, Western State Hospital, and mandating administration of ant-psychotic drugs in order to control his paranoid schizophrenia. “Waking up” without paranoid schizophrenia due to his new medication, he was an entirely different person, able to understand the horrible crime he had committed while psychotic, but unable to relate to the person who actually pulled the trigger.  It wasn’t him. Thanks to his new medication, he has to live the rest of his life knowing that “he”, someone else,  murdered his wife and unborn child.

With Loughner’s upcoming forced medication will come the obliteration of his personality as well as the knowledge that he pulled the trigger on innocent people. Is it fair that the government can destroy someone’s personality and then pin a crime on them?

I realize society wants its pound of flesh for the crimes, but I question the manner in which they get it.  Instead of making it easier to get help for people with mental illnesses, society is content to try to punish those who commit these kinds of “insanity” crimes by forcing medication that essentially changes the identities of the people they administer it to.  Rather than taking this approach, why not make it easier to get someone committed involuntarily before they commit a crime?  Think how many lives would have been changed if this approach were implemented.



1. troy - May 30, 2011

“Is it fair that the government can destroy someone’s personality and then pin a crime on them?”

The flip side to this is pinning the crime on the personality that committed it in the first place …either way it seems we get that pound of flesh we crave.

Making it easier to commit people involuntarily might also open up a whole can of worms -‘wrongful commitment’ cases for example. Plus there’s the obvious question of how do you know if someone is about to do something harmful or not? Still though, it is at least a somewhat proactive solution.

Tough questions really, and not knowing ‘who’ is responsible (the identity of the person at the time) only adds to the confusion.

2. mercurialmatters - May 31, 2011

Interesting point that you brought up in regards to personality and sanity. After experiencing psychosis myself I have more compassion for the perpetrator than most people. It seems to me like society oversimplifies the idea of “sanity” and “personality” so that it makes it easier for society to deal with criminal matters.

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