Month: October 2012

Dr. Grace Graham on Insanity in the Courtroom (Part 2 of 2)

Dr. Grace Graham of Plano, Texas, continues to answer questions about forensic psychology in the courtroom.

Question:
How can a psychologist tell if a defendant is actually insane, as opposed to faking insanity to get a lighter sentence?

Dr. Grace Graham:
Most people have very little knowledge of mental illness. When a defendant tries to fake a mental illness, he often acts like a character from a movie, or invents delusions that might not consistently fit any known pattern of mental illness. Forensic psychologists use a combination of psychological tests, clinical interviews, clinical observation, and reviewing relevant collaborative documents to separate people with actual illnesses from people who are faking. Very few people can keep up an act every moment for days or weeks, and people with actual illnesses often have a long history of acting out or needing social services even prior to committing the criminal offense.

Question:
How can we prevent the crimes by people with severe mental illness?

Dr. Grace Graham:
On the one hand, we can’t prevent them. No system is perfect, and people can always slip through the cracks. However, as friends and neighbors, we can be involved. If we see someone caught in a downward spiral, it can be tempting to turn away and dismiss a problem as none of our business. If someone is suffering from severe mental illness, we need to intervene before things get out of hand, even if that means alerting family members or the authorities. The actions we take to prevent mental illness from marginalizing and isolating people can go a long way toward helping stop these sorts of incidents.

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