The verdict is in: the (omitted) role of mental health issues in America’s fascination with justice

It’s a hot button.  Everyone has their opinion about the Casey Anthony trial and the not-guilty verdict that was handed down yesterday.  Most people I have spoken with and articles I’ve come across are outraged that “a murderer was let loose”.  There were so many details and intricacies in this story that were sensationalized, taunting America to become obsessed with the horrible reality of a little girl’s unwarranted death.  My job is not to analyze these details or the way that the trial played out.  My own personal opinion is that the jury  was not allowed to weigh certain factors in this case that may have swayed their opinion (or maybe not – but still, they were not given the opportunity to consider them).

There are many links to the OJ Simpson trial and the manner in which the media pounced over every small event in that trial — most details of which had no business being publicly exposed.  Both trials were about terrible deaths that should and could have been prevented — I think we can all agree to that.  But, when the defendant is given freedom from being convicted, as OJ and Casey both have been due to tampered evidence and faulty story-lines, how do you know what to believe?  Will this case “allow” others to commit crimes, get national attention, and not worry about getting convicted?  If there is a lucrative book and movie deal waiting for Casey as soon as she is out of prison as news reports are already saying, I am fearful of the messages that this trial and others like it are sending to society.

What about Casey’s emotional health?  There are those who think she is a self-absorbed psychopath who has no remorse for killing her daughter.  There are other reports that speak to the abuse she states she endured at the hand of her father when she was a child.  Further, some mental health clinicians are pointing to the possibility that she was “pushed over the edge”, feeling as if she did not have enough resources and support to feel mentally stable.  She may suffer from borderline personality disorder, thinks Dr. Barbara Kirwin, PhD, due to the pattern of intense romantic relationships and the possibility that her daughter might have gotten in the way.

An interesting and dismaying fact of this trial concerns me:  the defense was set to have two mental health experts testify, but pulled them from the trial at the last minute.  Why?  The mental health experts could ask Casey questions that would reveal a side to her that is not publicly known and may severely impact the trial:  either that she is a heartless psychopath, or a hurting victim of abuse and mental illness.  It seems that to America, both personalities would be ostracized in some way.  Sure, we could identify and perhaps sympathize with Casey if we were let in on her inner turmoil.  It does not justify a murder — but sadly, mental illness has impacted violence and homicide in numerous ways, tragedies that are preventable.

Were there signs that Casey was mentally ill?  America is outraged at the ways in which she lied to authorities and partied into the night while her daughter was missing.  It is easy to condemn this behavior; it also could be looked at through a mental health lens:  could these be signs of narcissistic personality disorder?  A disorder whose very nature makes it challenging to connect to the intense pain and insecurity that  lies beneath the bravado, people with narcissistic personality disorder (and many other types of personality disorders) often do not get the help they need due to their outlandish behavior.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion – that is one of the freedoms we enjoy in the USA.  I am sad for Casey Anthony in that she has issues that were not addressed and may have caused her to victimize an innocent child (as she was herself at one time).  She will lead a difficult life from now on, and America will never let her forget this event.  It is a tragedy in so many forms, and unfortunately it will not be the last tragedy of its kind.

I hope that, if nothing else, this experience can help us to remember to seek out mental health resources, social support, or any type of assistance if we are struggling to make it from day to day.  Early intervention is the key to saving the lives of those that we love as well as our own.