Mental Disorders and the Legal System

There are many ethical decisions made daily in the psychology field. Whether these decisions are made to protect patients or others, to keep a mentally ill person from receiving a prison sentence and getting them the mental help they need, helping those with cultural differences, or making sure that a potential patient or study participant has given informed consent, making the correct ethical decisions can be difficult for mental health professionals. Because of this, many laws have been created to put some of these ethical decisions into stone thus relieving some of the difficult decisions that a mental health professional may face.

Psychology and the law spans a number of areas including that of prosecuting of those with mental illness. There have been many legal cases where the defendant had a mental illness that caused them to hurt or murder others. Because of these legal cases and ethics in psychology, a number of laws have been created in order to protect both those with mental health problems and the general public. For example, if someone is declared to have been "legally insane" while the person commits a crime, the crime can be considered as an accident. Instead of the person going to prison, he or she is instead sent to a mental health care facility to be treated. This law protects the mentally ill who, had he or she not been stricken with mental illness, may not have committed the crime.

The laws surrounding prosecuting the mentally ill bring up a number of questions. Deciding whether or not a particular defendant is to be found innocent or guilty of their crimes based on their psychological state when the crime was committed is a difficult choice for mental heal care professionals, judges, and juries. These decisions not only weigh heavily on the defendant's future life, but also can weigh on the lives of judges and juries as these decisions can have mental consequences. Furthermore, these decisions an also have a consequence on the general public either by protecting them from future harm or by creating a legal precedent that can make changes in human rights.

As there is some gray area in these laws, the laws are constantly changing to keep up with the changes in the mental health field. As the mental health field grows, many laws change to reflect this so that patients, professionals, and the public can receive the full rights and protection they deserve.
About this Author

Melanie writes articles on HubPages on topics such as cultural psychology and informed consent in research and a number of other topics.