DEPRESSION, VIOLENCE AND CRIME: HOW DO THEY GO HAND IN HAND

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Violent crime is everywhere, from school shootings to suicidal pilots.  There seems to be a trend where unstable, suicidal people are not not only killing themselves?they?re taking down others as well.  Could poor brain function be to blame?  As it turns out, many tragic cases start with a physically unhealthy brain.  If untreated, these illnesses can affect the minds and bodies of the patients, sometimes ending in massacre.

Violence and Depression: How are They Connected!
 
A couple of weeks ago, a German pilot ran a commercial plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 passengers.  The airline?s initial psychological test of him said that he was perfectly sane and fit to work.  But they don?t require checkups after the pilots start flying.  After thorough investigation, we now know that the pilot had seen at least five doctors in the last couple of months and was given ?unfit to work? notices by doctors because of his severe depression and inability to sleep [1].  However, he hid his illness from his employers and kept on flying.  The people who knew him thought he was (for the most part) a normal, happy guy?even in the days preceding the crash.  After the incident, his tablet was found, showing multiple searches for suicide methods in the week before the tragedy.  
 
People diagnosed with depression are about three times more likely to commit a violent crime, according to a Swedish study that looked at nearly 50,000 clinically depressed people [2].  Physicians and psychiatrists need to address violent crime with their depressed patients just as much as they do suicide and self-harm.  The clinically depressed should have frequent thorough examinations by their physician, especially if they hold a position of high responsibility.
 
Everyone needs to be more aware of the link between depression and crime .  Schools of late have also been victim to massacres committed by depressed or mentally unstable people.  In 2007, Virginia Tech was attacked by one of its own students, who killed 32 young people and then himself.  He was depressive and previously had been seen in a mental health facility?two years prior to the shootings he had been hospitalized for suicidal thoughts, but told the psychiatrists it was all a joke.  He had also seen the campus counselor a couple of times but didn?t persist seriously [3].  It is imperative that every case of depression is taken seriously by the patient and the medical professional, no matter how benign it may seem at first.
 
Brain Degeneration Can Promote Criminal Behavior
 
Aside from depression, neurodegenerative diseases can also alter the way a person thinks or acts in terms of making judgments, processing emotions, committing crimes, behaving sexually or being violent.  Unfortunately, dementia is possible in all adult ages.  
 
Recent research has found that dementia can promote strange behavior in people who would otherwise not cause problems.  From a study that followed nearly 2500 patients during all stages of dementia, 8.5% suddenly began criminal behavior during the course of their illness [4].  That means they had never committed crime before and all of a sudden were predisposed to it.  See, mental illnesses like dementia, schizophrenia and manic-depressive disorder are actual diseases of the brain just like Parkinson?s disease or multiple sclerosis are.  They can physically alter the brain.  Schizophrenia alone ( I mean the pathologic process in the brain that leads to schizophrenia ) can deplete up to 25% of gray matter in the brain?that?s reducing the brain by a quarter [5]! These stats come as a revelation that dementia and other mental illnesses can be a major cause of criminal behavior.
 
An example of this happened in 1999.  Another suicidal pilot killed 219 people on their way to Cairo by crashing into the Atlantic Ocean.  Reports suggest that he had been recently banned from flying any more transatlantic flights due to sexual misconduct?possibly a serious sign of dementia.  He had been caught exposing himself to young girls, making sexual advances to hotel maids and stalking females [6].  This definitely suggests severe untreated issues in the brain. 
 
It is crucial that the patient with the issue persistently sees a physician for treatment.  Less than three years ago, 26 kids and adults were killed at a Connecticut elementary school by another young man who also eventually pulled the gun on himself.  The first person killed was his mother.  He had been treated sporadically throughout his childhood for diagnoses of anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Asperger syndrome [8].  But whenever he was prescribed medication, he wouldn?t take them and discontinued follow-ups with the doctor.  Because of this, his severe issues in the brain went ignored by the schools and his parents.
 
Interference in the Brain
 
Basically, anything that greatly alters the brain function can make a person crazy.  In 1966, a Texan named Charles Whitman wrote a letter with plans to kill his wife and mother.  He had struggled with depression, hostility, and headaches.  ?I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts? [7].  After writing this letter, he stabbed both women to death and then took a sawed-off shotgun to the university and shot down everyone in sight from the confines of a clock tower.  He killed 14 people and wounded many more.  In a suicide note found in his house, he mentioned wanting a biopsy to figure out why he was acting so strangely.  ?Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type.?  Officials honored his request and a cancerous brain tumor was found that had been putting pressure on the amygdala and most likely causing this terrible behavior.  
 
Of course, I?m not saying it is acceptable that all of these murderers committed the acts they did.  But they were definitely inflicted with some sort of disease of the brain that helped prompt the behaviors. Their illnesses may have been recognized by professionals but they could not be stopped with casual or infrequent treatment.  
 
Unfortunately, the current American systems in place are not designed to protect us from others with abnormal mentality.  It must be taken into the hands of the patients and the physicians.  The bottom line is if you or someone you know suffers from depression, lack of emotions, forgetfulness, suicidal thoughts, violent tendencies, sexual misconduct, or anxiety, find a doctor you trust and keep seeing that doctor.  The brain is a complicated entity?issues can be difficult to pinpoint and treat.  But when a patient finds a doctor who is willing to dig to find the root cause with them, this biochemical abnormality can be put right and tragedies can be avoided.  
 

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