Whether Explicit or Implicit Disorders

Why we need to shine light unto lesser known mental disorders, and into the lives of people.

Recently, the Straits Times newspaper reported the passing of an individual with the title “Serial shoplifter found dead one day before court appearance for alleged theft spree”. The crux of the story had been the alleged suicide of an individual, charged with theft, the day before she was to appear in court for a pre-trial conference. It seemed oddly crushing that one had chosen to end their life following a minor crime they had committed, and perhaps there was more to this unusual scenario.

Reading on it was disclosed that the individual had been on probation since 2005, diagnosed with kleptomania in 2007 and accused of theft on several occasions in 2015 and 2016. It seemed unjust that one had taken their own life while suffering from a condition making it hard for them to abstain from illegal behaviour. My condolences remain with the family.

The system of justice in Singapore is fair. Individuals whom are diagnosed with mental disorders are not exempt from the law, and intuitively, they receive sentences proportionate to their condition. Unfortunately, it is not always simple for the judiciary to decide the matching consequence to actions conducted by these individuals. One reason is the complexity and inability to fully grasp the mental condition of the accused, making it hard to empathise. In some cases these disorders are not too well understood by the scientific community. Philosophically, Thomas Nagel believes physical attributes may be easily identified, but mental states would be hardly accessible to judges, meaning that even well understood disorders would not be perfectly judged. As such, decisions and sentences sometimes seem unjust. Another reason would be the complexity of legal responsibility and moral culpability, even sometimes when we feel particular actions are not wrong per se, they are still illegal and hence within the legal boundaries are sentenced.

Of course this does not mean that we are at a loss, unable to allow the best for the mentally challenged. Personally, I have a younger brother diagnosed with Kabuki syndrome and his condition is generally easily identifiable as it also affects his physicality along with his cognitive ability. Sometimes when he misbehaves or acts inappropriately, those around him tend to be kinder and more understanding. Of course since his condition is explicit, although people cannot empathise entirely, they do understand that he operates differently.

Once we can accept the belief of implicit mental disorders, we can help create a positive environment for them. Taking the step to better understand mental disorders and the people suffering from them generates a positive community for these individuals. With support from their families and friends, where relationships might have been strained before, can we allow them an environment of learning what they should and should not do. By destigmatising mental illnesses as social iniquity can we encourage those who suffer silently to seek help before committing mistakes, due to their condition, thereby preventing the process of induced crime.

Timothy is a chemistry undergraduate student at the National University of Singapore. He spends his time on sports, philosophy and cooking. Having a mentally challenged brother, he is grateful for the support that his family has received and hopes that the community will grow ever accepting of those with mental illnesses.