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 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.