The capture and killing of Osama bin Laden led many to wonder what drives the mind of the criminally insane
. In part two of our series on mental disorders we examine some of the illnesses associated with those felt to be “not guilty by reasons of insanity.”Dissociative identity disorder (DID)
is a mental illness best known as multiple personality or split personality disorder. Those that suffer with the illness have at least two separate identities called alters (or alternate identities). Each of these alters displays his or her own personality that may be very different from the original personality. It’s believed that about 3% of patients in psychiatric hospitals have DID and females are nine times more likely than men to suffer from the disorder.
While some professionals don’t believe that DID even exits, it is listed as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the “go-to” handbook of mental disorders. The popular movies The Three Faces of Eve
are based on true stories of women diagnosed with multiple personalities. More recently, DID has been highlighted in the HBO series, United States of Tara
.Signs and symptoms of DID.
Documented cases report histories of severe physical and sexual abuse in childhood. Blackouts, memory lapses, being accused of lying, strangers that recognize them as someone else, and feeling unreal are common among multiple personality disorder patients. It’s almost living like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The problem is that real people cannot fight or control their unwanted personality.DID and the criminally insane.
There are more dissociative disorders among the criminal population than one would think. It is estimated that more than a dozen violent offenders in various prisons have dissociative identity disorder. However, a forensic psychiatrist is not likely to give such a diagnosis because the condition is extremely rare. And even if the diagnosis is forthcoming, legal and mental health experts haven’t reached a consensus on whether DID warrants an acquittal based on reasons of insanity.
The first DID criminal case whereby the defendant was excused from criminal responsibility occurred in State vs. Milligan (1978). In this case, serial rapist Billy Milligan was declared criminally insane because he didn’t have one integrated personality. For that reason, he wasn’t responsible for the crimes. There was a tremendous public outcry over the verdict and since then it has been very difficult to offer DID as an insanity defense. Bipolar Disorder
is a serious mental illness characterized by extreme mood changes from depression to a state of mania. During the manic phase, the person is extremely restless, reckless, talkative, energetic, euphoric and grandiose. It’s not uncommon for mania to lead to lavish spending or impulsive behaviors, including risky sex. At some point the euphoric mood ceases and spirals into a dark place where they the bipolar person feels trapped, confused, and angry.
Depression is the polar opposite of this manic phase. It’s characterized by a sense of worthlessness, sadness, loss of energy, crying, sleep problems, and loss of pleasure.
These cycles of highs and lows are different for each person. For this reason, bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose. The mania or depression may last for weeks, months, or even years. Or they may cycle more rapidly – even from day to day. Bipolar and the criminally insane.
Though most people with mental illnesses are not criminals, there does seem to be a connection between bipolar disorder and crime. Because the bipolar person has a hard time making sound decisions and choices, these choices can lead to unlawful behavior. Some studies show bipolar sufferers are twice as likely to commit a criminal act than someone that doesn’t have a mental disorder. Most crimes are committed during the depressive state.
An insanity defense is difficult to wage in bipolar cases despite the fact that horrific crimes have been committed by some bipolar cases. The defense team for Kevin Underwood, a cannibalistic killer, argued that his bipolar disorder, deviant sexual problems, and a socially isolating personality disorder caused Underwood to lose control. However, the jury found him guilty and Underwood was sentenced to death. Public perception of the criminally insane.
One study interviewed 423 residents of New York and found most felt the criminally insane are dangerous and violent. As a class, they were feared and rejected far more than the mentally ill. What is interesting is that those who the individuals classified as “criminally insane” were never legally
classified as such . . . as was the case with Osama bin Laden
. Though we’ll never know if he would have been found criminally insane or not, his heinous crimes lead to the conclusion that only an insane, violent, and extremely dangerous man could have perpetrated them.