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Defining Mental Disorders Not Clear Cut

Defining Mental Disorders Not Clear Cut

Posted - Aug. 9, 2004 at 5:16 p.m.



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Ed Yeates ReportingIf Mark Hacking killed his wife, what was in his psyche that drove him to the act? Is he an anti-social personality, perhaps even a sociopath? A textbook diagnosis appears to describe his behavior, but does it really fit?

If you look up "antisocial personality disorders" in what is called the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, the man sitting in jail right now has many similarities. While some don’t fit, most do.

Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior. Frequently deceitful and manipulative to gain personal profit or pleasure. They repeatedly lie, use an alias, or con others. They may have a glib, superficial charm. Decisions are made on the spur of the moment without worrying about consequences to self or others. And there's more!

But Jed Erickson with the University of Utah's Psychiatric Crisis Division says such a diagnosis usually only becomes clear cut when personality flaws have persisted, when they go way back in a patient's history.

Jed Erickson, U of U Psychiatric Crisis Division: "These traits that we are talking about would be characteristics that are very enduring - that began early, persisted long, and are very difficult to change."

Enduring meaning they usually can be traced back into adolescence, behavior at that age which is referred to as conduct disorders.

Jed Erickson: "Then after the period of adolescence on into adulthood, it may evolve to antisocial personality, and a little bit more extreme of that is sociopath. And even more extreme is psychopath."

To think a person may fit one of these labels appears simple on the surface, but they're not as clear cut as definable mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bi-polar illnesses. In the end, Erickson says, the true label for someone with an anti-social disorder has a rather frightening trademark. Instead of compassion and empathy...

Jed Erickson: "They tend to think of a person not as a person with feelings or the capacity to be hurt or injured or offended, but simply an object to be taken advantage of, to be used for one's own personal gratification."

Where Mark Hacking fits in - who he really is psychologically - remains now to be discovered as his case evolves.

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