"Depression" and the Criminal: An Overview

"Take my crime away, and you take my world away"

Posted Apr 08, 2019

Depression may be situational and fleeting.  At worst, it may be prolonged and debilitating.  The focus here is on depression as it occurs in people who make crime a way of life.  To even a highly trained clinician, a criminal’s depression may appear similar to that experienced by people who live basically responsible lives.  That appearance is belied by the reality that a unique set of thinking patterns underlies the criminal’s experience of depression.

Criminals have a world view characterized in part by pretensions and unrealistic expectations of themselves and others.  They despair when others do not accord them the recognition and status they believe they deserve, whether or not they have earned it.  For a criminal, just thinking something makes it so.  Consider an individual who holds the following premises about life.

  • I am better than others.
  • I know more than others.
  • People should behave the way I expect them to.
  • If I desire something, I deserve to have it.
  • Whatever I do is right at the time, regardless of others’ opinions.
  • Whatever I plan, it should turn out precisely the way I want it to.
  • If anyone opposes me, I will prevail by whatever means are necessary.
  • Whatever I think or say is correct.
  • I deserve to be successful.

A person with this mentality is likely to experience innumerable challenges, frustrations, and disappointments.  When these premises are challenged, the criminal becomes ever more determined to impose his will on others.  He grows angry at a world that does not give him what he thinks he is due.  Faced with a situation that he cannot control, his self-image is threatened.  He reacts either with anger or, depending on the situation, by suffering a complete collapse of that image.

This is not the depression experienced by a person who sees himself as not measuring up or at fault. Instead, the criminal believes that others have failed him.  Depressed about his girlfriend leaving him, he feels victimized but does not consider what he may have done to drive her away.  He is depressed about being fired from a job.  But he does not consider that his poor job performance was the main contributing factor.  Time after time, he is depressed about what others have done to him but seldom recognizes his own deficiencies and contribution to the situation. His focus remains on what others have done to him and how they have failed him. 

As individuals who think in extremes, conceiving of themselves as “number one” or “nothing,” criminals may become depressed when they sense they have lost control. This may occur if they are apprehended and are facing unpalatable consequences that are about to be imposed.  Once again, their depression is not about how they have failed others but about how others have failed them. “Take my crime away, and you take my world away,” remarked one offender. At the most extreme, criminals may take drastic steps to remove themselves from this unsatisfactory world and end their lives.  In such instances, they think it is better not to exist at all than to do so on others’ terms.