OCD and Crime

by c. guoy freedigitalphotos.net

by c. guoy freedigitalphotos.net

Man arrested after Jo Cox shooting is ‘obsessive compulsive who rubbed own skin with Brillo pads’ relative claims.

The above statement is a  recent headline from the Daily Mirror, a British newspaper. The story goes on to discuss the eccentricities of the man arrested for the recent horrific killing of Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament.

Talk about misleading. While it certainly is possible this man has obsessive-compulsive disorder (untreated), those with OCD are no more likely to commit crimes than the general population.

The headline might just have well have said, “Killer has brown eyes.” It’s just not relevant to the crime. Those with OCD who have obsessions of harming others live with the torment of these thoughts because they are so repulsed and frightened by them. Compulsions are created as a way to make sure these acts are not carried out. Those with OCD who have obsessions about hurting others with a knife, for example, will hide all the knives in their home or not go near the kitchen. They do not act on their obsessions. They WILL NOT take a knife and hurt someone, at least not because they have OCD.

This Washington Post article, which I think is well worth reading, discusses the fact that most killers do not suffer from what we typically consider mental illness, but rather  are considered sociopaths. Dr. Michael Stone, a forensic psychiatrist at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, breaks mental illness into two categories:

In the first category are those with schizophrenia, delusions and other psychoses that separate them from reality and who are suffering from serious mental illness and could be helped with medical treatment. In the second are those with personality, antisocial or sociopathic disorders who may exhibit paranoia, callousness or a severe lack of empathy but know exactly what they are doing.

Dr. Stone published a paper in 2015, and the Washington Post article summarizes its conclusions:

Stone found that just about 2 out of 10 mass killers were suffering from serious mental illness. The rest had personality or antisocial disorders or were disgruntled, jilted, humiliated or full of intense rage. They were unlikely to be identified or helped by the mental-health system, reformed or not.

Some of the commenters on this article argue that  sociopaths are indeed mentally ill, and this whole topic is just a matter of semantics. In this blog post, I discuss the use of the phrase “the mentally ill” and experts weigh in on who that includes and how this phrase  perpetuates stigma.

Blaming violent crimes on “the mentally ill” is an easy thing to do but the truth is it’s a complicated issue. One thing is perfectly clear, however. People with OCD are no more likely than anyone else to resort to violence.


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8 Responses to OCD and Crime

  1. Thank you for this important post. I appreciate your comment that the article may as well have mentioned eye color and that OCD is not relevant to the crime. We have much to learn on the whole about mental illness.

    • Yes, we do have so much to learn, Angie. The sad part right now is that this misinformation about OCD and other brain disorders reaches so many people ( through the media) and shapes how they view those with these disorders. Sigh.

  2. Laura J. McCarthy says:

    Thank you for addressing this issue. The term “mental illness” has always been a catch-all for deviant or misunderstood behavior, which makes about as much sense as labeling any and all physical illnesses “cancer.” Even if personality and antisocial disorders are, indeed, “mental health” disorders, each one is a unique disorder or disease, the same as cancer, diabetes, and heart failure are each manifestations of physical health disorders and disease. Add to this the misconceptions that already define OCD and we are left with your spot-on “brown eyes” analogy.

    • Hi Laura, Thank you so much for commenting and I love your analogy to physical illnesses.THAT is spot-on! Crimes are committed by people and not by illnesses. Thanks again for sharing and I hope to hear from you again!

  3. Reblogged this on Jackie Lea Sommers and commented:
    Very important. VERY.

  4. simonjkyte says:

    The question is – or should be – who influenced this man to do what he did.

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