Faatimah Hendricks

The possible link between crime and mental illness

2017-07-03 11:12

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These are grim times for vulnerable women and children in South Africa, a country that seems to have no solution to ongoing violent crime.

Recent cases where the bodies of women and children have been found are only a symptom of a deeper problem. It seems to be a common trend for women and children to be brutally raped and murdered by someone they know.

When I hear of these crimes I always wonder what could make someone want to harm another in such a horrific manner. The first thing that comes to mind is mental illness, especially in cases where the perpetrator showed no remorse or any kind of emotion after the crime had been committed.

I have written a lot about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and the possibility of it contributing to South Africa's high crime rate. There are very few organisations that cater specifically for children with FASD. There is even less help available for adults with FASD. They're expected to be assimilated into a society that doesn't understand their challenges or needs.

Organisations in South Africa focus mainly on research and awareness programmes about consuming alcohol during pregnancy, but there isn't a hands-on approach in education and employment once kids with FASD become adults.

I believe that FASD could be a huge contributing factor to crime because of the effects on brain development.

If we are aware of the effect alcohol and drugs have on communities and we know that consuming alcohol during pregnancy leads to FASD, how many uneducated, poor women in a country combating widespread poverty and alcoholism could have possibly given birth to children with this affliction? And this is just one mental disorder. There are so many more. How much of our crime could be rooted in mental illness?

When I put the question to the South African Federation for Mental Health, the response was a bit defensive, saying that there is a major misconception about mentally ill people being dangerous. Of course not all mentally ill people are dangerous, but perhaps dangerous people are mentally ill.

Poverty is known to be one of the root causes of crime. It is understandable – though not acceptable or correct – that desperate people could resort to breaking into a house and stealing valuables or mugging someone. But what is the root cause of raping or murdering a child? It's definitely not a matter of survival nor will it fix their financial woes.

Some research has been done about this. It was found that a combination of anti-social behaviour and mental disorder led to crime in South Africa. This can stem from poverty, being raised in an abusive environment and having parents who suffered from depression or alcoholism.

It's very encouraging to see South Africans standing together and taking to the streets to protest the high levels of crime. But there is only so much citizens can do. It is not a law-abiding citizen's job to combat crime, nor do citizens have to contribute by sacrificing their time to keep their neighbourhoods safe, even if it helps.

Government needs to step up. It could start by investing in research dedicated to establishing the root causes of violent crime and find ways of dealing with it, such as getting more accurate numbers on the rate of FASD in South Africa. If it's a matter of mental health, better support and resources should be offered. If it's poverty, then the government should consider shifting its focus to encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship, and on improving education.

It seems as though crime is getting out of control. Just one case of rape and murder is too much. If government continues to ignore the root causes of crime, things will only get bleaker because crime affects everyone. Do we really want to continue to be the country people warn tourists about after praising its beauty?

- Faatimah Hendricks is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and at selfwriteous.co.za.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    crime  |  mental illness


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