Mad or Bad

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Running head: Are murderers suffering from mental illness or simply evil?

The question of whether murderers are suffering from psychiatric illness or are just simply evil is a debate that runs rife throughout not only the psychological community, but society as a whole. Murders are rare events in Australia; nevertheless they do occur. The media coverage of such events can be extensive and often dramatized, without addressing the potential underlying processes such as mental health and/or intoxicating influences that may contribute to such antisocial behaviour. Presented will be a focus on those underlying factors such as mental health and substance abuse, psychopathy will also be critically examined to draw the conclusion that murderers behaviour cannot be excluded as bad even if a mental health issue is present at the time of offence.

The question of whether murderers are suffering from psychiatric illness or are just simply evil is a debate that runs rife throughout not only the psychological community, but society as a whole. Murders are rare events in Australia; nevertheless they do occur. The media coverage of such events can be extensive and often dramatized, without addressing the potential underlying processes such as mental health and/or intoxicating influences that may contribute to such antisocial behaviour. To understand and determine whether or not murderers are mad or just bad, the defining terms of “mental illness” and “evil” are imperative. The psychological definition of mental illness is “any of various disorders in which a person's thoughts, emotions, or behaviour are so abnormal as to cause suffering to himself, herself, or other people” (Oxford dictionary. 2012) and on the other hand evil is defined as the “quality or an instance of being morally wrong; causing harm or injury” (Oxford dictionary. 2012). It is vital that we differentiate these terms as often the media portrayal of murderers is only based on the evil quality without considering other possible underlying influences that may provide further explanations for behaviour. In arguing the differentiation of the mad from the bad, this paper will discuss homicide in Australia and how it differs, address influences such as mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse and provide an overview of psychopathy to murder.Homicide in Australia is a rare event, and is among the most serious of all crimes, unfortunately however, it does occur. The term ‘homicide’ refers to a person killed (unlawfully); a murder is the willful killing of a person either intentionally or with reckless indifference to life (Hayes & Prenzler, 2009). In 2007-08 there were 260 homicide incidents in Australia involving the deaths of 273 victims. In trend terms however, this rate at which homicide occurs remains at an historical low. Within Australia, most homicides were domestic homicides involving one or more victims, who shared a family or domestic relationship with the offender, furthermore intimate partner homicides comprised the largest proportion of domestic homicides at 60%; leaving stranger homicide relatively low at 12%. The vast majority of victims of homicide died from stab wounds than from any other single cause of death. Secondly, victims died as a result of a gunshot wound. Although the vast majority of victims died as a result of stab wounds for domestic and acquaintance homicides, for stranger homicides the most frequently recorded cause of death was beatings at 53% (Virueda & Payne, 2010). The social context of most homicides suggests they are likely to occur between people who are generally from similar backgrounds and socio-economic groups (Hayes & Prenzler, 2009). Importantly, the location of a homicide is largely influenced by the type of homicide, with domestic homicides accounting for the largest proportion, majority occurred within a residential location most often the victims’ home; however occasionally in the offenders....
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