What is mental illness exactly? Why do we pardon cold blooded murderers with the use of mental illnesses and disorders? “Mental illness refers to conditions that affect cognition, emotion, and behaviour (e.g., schizophrenia, depression, autism).” is one of the definitions the US Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website has given to the public. However, is it that simple? “Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behaviour (or a combination of these).” is another definition, from the American Psychiatric Association website. These both are very valid and almost universally accepted definitions of this term.
There is no doubt that mental illness is a much more complex condition of cognition, as it affects the way of ‘normal’ thinking and interactions, causing individuals to become unrecognizable by their closest friends and relatives, in regard to how they behave. There could not be a simple definition for a concept that is so life- altering and with such a sudden shocking change in personality.
It is, however, very important for me to note before we dive into this topic, that not all people who suffer from mental illnesses are likely to commit crimes, but a few of the most severe serial killings have been done by people who have different mental illnesses, in particular personality disorders.
To give an example of some famous killers that had mental illnesses, Ted Bundy (21,600,000 results when searched on google) and Charles Manson (25,600,000 results when searched on google) both had the antisocial personality disorder, which is where the term psychopathy originates from. However, that does not mean that anyone who has this disorder is a psychopath, as psychopaths tend to have more severe cases of antisocial personality disorder. It can be found in situations where the individual does not take into consideration other’s feelings and have the inability to behave and feel the same way as a ‘normal’ person, in the sense of not being able to love or build meaningful and healthy relationships with people. In addition, the individual may develop traits of extreme egocentricity and as well as the inability to learn from past mistakes and experiences.
Above all, the difference between ‘ordinary’ murderers and serial killers should be addressed. Firstly, serial killers are murderers that kill multiple people in a short span of time and usually the motive is psychological and not material. These killers can be identified in their childhoods, because, usually, children who have these tendencies will obsess over things such as pyromania or animal abuse. This is an outlet for their aggressive and sadistic way of entertainment.
Although it is often thought that individuals who are affected by this disorder cannot feel sorry or pity for anyone, they can also be very manipulative in order to get what they want. Even more, some may seem very charming at first.
Ted Bundy was a serial killer that confessed to 30 murders in the 1970s. Bundy murdered young women and girls in cold blood for around a decade until his prosecution and execution in 1989.
His final lawyer on the case stated that Ted Bundy was “The very definition of heartless evil.”. Showcasing his true colours, Bundy mentioned in an interview, after being convicted of murdering and sexually assaulting 30 women, “I’m the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet”. This ultimately makes Bundy sound proud of his accomplishments, which depicts evidence of the antisocial personality disorder, where he did not care that 30 women died, but instead was bragging about what he had done and what a bad person he was. Lastly, he once simply stated: “I just like to kill”. In order to commit his murders, he used to attract the attention of his victims by pretending to be disabled or wearing a cast. After he would kill these women, he would often decapitate them and keep their skulls near his bed in order to ‘sleep with his trophies’. Any person reading these last few sentences with any kind of moral compass would think that pretending to be a troubled person in order to achieve your goals would indefinitely be a sign of some kind of a mental ‘problem’. From the website “allthatsinteresting.com”, after Ted Bundy’s several attempts at escaping prison and his two failed ones, he was finally prosecuted, where defence investigator Joseph Aloi said, “I would describe him being as close to being like the devil as anyone I ever met,”.
Bundy was studied by 73 psychologists from the Kentucky University in 2007 and approximately 80 % of the psychologists agreed that Bundy was the ‘perfect example of the actual disorder’, as he ticked off all the criteria of the disorder, with no doubts. Furthermore, 90% of the same group of scientists agreed Bundy had another disorder called the narcissistic personality disorder.
Using this perfect example of an infamous serial killer with multiple mental illnesses, let’s start psychoanalysing the behaviour of serial killers. Psychoanalysis is the analysis of the mind, and how childhood experiences can influence behaviour, thinking and decision-making in a person’s future. This could also ultimately result in psychological problems. In Ted Bundy’s case, he grew up never knowing his father and he was raised by his grandparents because they “were ashamed of their daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy” (according to “All Interesting, Ted Bundy”), in addition to believing for most his life that his mother was his sister. His grandfather would also abuse his daughter and Bundy, which caused Bundy’s mom to run away with him to some of their cousins. Just by looking at these facts, we can see that Bundy’s childhood was not very easy, having no father figure to look up to, no role model to show Ted how a proper adult should act like, having his grandfather – who is supposed to be the one to spoil his grandchild- hit his mother in front of him as well as Bundy himself. Even in his childhood, Ted Bundy had a very violent and abusive grandfather, which ultimately may have influenced his future personality traits and behaviour towards other individuals around him.
Because of all his childhood trauma, it would not be very surprising if he had become a very violent person himself. The child was taught that abuse was normal, that hitting people for no reason was not out of the ordinary by his grandfather.
I personally believe that when it comes to serial killer cases, especially Ted Bundy’s case, childhood experiences and how these individuals were treated by family members are important factors in the development of personality and development of ethics. Just an important end note, people with ‘perfectly normal’ childhoods have also been convicted to serious homicides, so it is not a set criteria in order to find serious killers out there, just as much as if someone has had a rough childhood it would not mean necessarily that they would become a cold-blooded murderer.
As this horrible childhood is a reality for a lot of people out there, the other individuals that have the resources could try and invest in providing better lives for those in need of them. By doing that, it could reduce the risk of a child being put through abuse, in return the child will start to believe that violence is normal in day to day life, which increases the risk of that individual to grow up with the antisocial personality disorder, and possibly become an aggressive, violent person, leading to crimes and other unspeakable things that are done. Take Ted Bundy as an example, this man felt no remorse, no mercy. Ted Bundy: “The very definition of heartless evil.”.
Dangerous Minds: The Mental Illnesses of Infamous Serial Killers
Evolving Definitions of Mental illness and wellness:
Are all Murderers Mentally Ill?
The mental health of prisoners