“Depression” and the Criminal: appearance versus reality

Offenders are frequently considered to be suffering from depression by concerned families and, under certain circumstances, by clinical evaluators, i.e., trained mental health professionals.

Consider the circumstances in which offenders are evaluated by professionals. These are situations that are unpalatable to offenders. That is, they are being held accountable after being apprehended for a crime.

Thus they are facing charges and may be in jail or awaiting trial while still in the community. Under conditions that they abhor, offenders may indeed seem despondent.
The question is whether they are depressed about themselves or only about the situation in which they find themselves.

People become depressed for many reasons. On the surface, it is often difficult to determine what lies behind the depressed countenance and mood. Is the person despairing about himself because he believes he is lacking or insufficient in some manner? Or is he depressed only because he does not like the circumstances in which he finds himself?

Criminals have unrealistic expectations of themselves and others. They see themselves as though they are the hub of a wheel—everything revolves around them. On nearly a daily basis, they are disappointed because they are thwarted in some way. When their plans do not work out, which often is the case, they may appear depressed. They do not perceive any deficiency within themselves.

They are "depressed" about the failure of others to give them what they think they are due. I have encountered numerous cases where offenders have been prescribed anti-depressants because they appear depressed. It is necessary to conduct a thorough evaluation to understand the true source of the "depression". A highly probable outcome of such an evaluation will be a determination that the offender is not suffering from clinical depression at all!

Stanton Samenow, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist practicing in Alexandria, Virginia and author of "Inside the Criminal Mind".

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