Dr. Jasbir Singh, a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in treating various mental disorders in prestigious institutions on the west coast of US discusses the misunderstood relationship between mental illness and criminality.
Dr. Singh’s research interests include schizophrenia, catatonia and substance use disorder. He has been an Assistant Professor with the University of California Los Angeles, Ross School of Medicine. His work include teaching as an assistant clinical professor and reviewing several medical journals, including Frontiers in Psychiatry. He has given presentations at prominent medical institutions across the United States along with academic presentations at various conferences.
In this article, Dr. Singh offers a review of the research article “Psychiatric Illness and Criminality” which was published in StatPearls and has been cited over 35 times by researchers internationally. The article refutes the popular belief that people with mental illness are more prone to commit acts of violence and aggression. The public perception of psychiatric patients as dangerous individuals is perpetuated by the media through disproportionate coverage on news channels and common cinematic plotlines. However, research shows that people with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.
Dr. Singh argues that the relationship between mental illness and criminality requires a nuanced explanation.
He expands on the connections between mental illness and the criminal justice system by noting several reasons that people with mental illness are disproportionately arrested and sent to prisons. Situations between law enforcement and people with psychiatric illness can escalate from a petty crime like jaywalking to serious issues when police do not have the appropriate training and resources to understand and respond to these individuals. This issue is historically tied to the closure of many state psychiatric hospitals in the 1960s, which causes patients to be removed from long term care institutions with planned transition to keep community care options. Unfortunately, community care options have failed to keep up with resource needs and many patients have been left to fend for themselves on the streets.
While Dr. Singh addresses the false perception of a causal relationship between psychiatric illness and criminality, he acknowledges how certain psychiatric conditions increase a person’s risk of committing a crime. Without receiving adequate treatment, for example, patients living with schizophrenia may be under the influence of command hallucinations and at increased risk for committing a crime. Social issues such as homelessness and unemployment are risk factors for contact with the criminal justice system. Patients with substance use disorders have a four-fold increase in the risk of committing a crime, and some studies have shown that increases in crime can be fully accounted for with a history of alcohol and/or drug use.
As Dr. Singh notes the serious consequences of inadequate mental health treatment, and sheds light on some of the causes ranging from cuts in funding for public health in many cities to lack of mental health treatment facilities, the inaccessibility of care becomes significant when coupled with systemic issues such as high rates of unemployment and homelessness. As support for a public health funding approach to reduce barriers to mental health treatment, Dr. Singh raises the hypothesizes that there could be significant financial savings for society if