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Mental Health Information Disclosure and Moral Panic Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 11th, 2022



The connection between the mental issues of an individual and the probability of them developing the patterns of criminal behavior is a rather questionable area (Meloy & Hoffmann, 2013). However, viewing the people with mental disadvantages as possible perpetrators is likely to conflict with people’s concept of social justice, therefore, triggering an increase in the moral panic rates. Therefore, to facilitate the wellbeing of the citizens and at the same time make sure that the rights of the mentally disadvantaged should not be infringed, one must consider the connection between the development of criminal behaviors, the progress of mental disorders, and the role that the moral panic rates in the society have on people’s perception of people with mental issues as possible criminals.

Research Question

The study in question is aimed at checking whether the disclosure of information regarding people with mental issues as possible perpetrators should be viewed as admissible in contemporary society is the primary research question to be answered in the course of the analysis. The research question, therefore, can be put in the following manner:

Do people with mental health issues display the behavioral patterns that can be defined as the ones similar to those of perpetrators, and how does the issue of the moral panic factor in the process of vilifying the mentally impaired as possible criminals?


Although the study under analysis cannot be viewed as the ultimate tool for proving either innocence or potential danger of people with mental issues, it will still shed some light on the subject matter. Thus, the research can be viewed as an attempt to prompt a change in the current concept of social justice. By pointing to the connection between mental issues and criminal behavior – or the lack thereof – the research will set the foundation for a change.

Literature Review

People with Mental Health Issues as Perpetrators

Society has always displayed the tendency of viewing people with mental issues as a source of consistent threat (Gold & Simon, 2015). While admittedly inspired by prejudice and not necessarily applicable to any instance of a mental disorder, the connection between the inclination to criminal behavior and the development of a mental disorder has been explored and stated as evident by a variety of researchers (Large, Ryan, Callaghan, Paton, & Singh, 2013). The reasons for the above attitudes are quite understandable. Since mentally challenged people are prone to facing fewer legal repercussions and having less responsibility for their actions due to their health issues, they can be viewed as possible perpetrators. Moreover, the very fact that the above members of the American society do not fully realize the consequences of their actions makes one doubt whether they are capable of restricting themselves to the socially admissible behavioral patterns and abstaining from developing criminal ones.

Moral Panic vs. the Actual Danger

One must admit, though, that the phenomenon of moral panic plays a huge role in vilifying people with mental disorders (Paterson, McIntosh, Wilkinson, McComish, & Smith, 2012). Moral panic is typically defined as the situation, in which “a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interest” (Falkof, 2015, p. 47). Therefore, it can be assumed that moral panic, when reinforced with the help of a specific source, such as media, may affect the concept of social justice. In other words, moral panic regarding the possible threat that mentally challenged people supposedly pose to society may shape the current concept of social justice. As a result, people with mental issues may become easily vilified, and their intentions can be interpreted as socially unacceptable.

Researches point to the fact that moral panic has a very powerful effect on people’s perception of social justice: “Social action, social justice, and critical issue arguments appear to have benefitted most from the trickle-down” (Gehrke & Keith, 2014, p. 87), as the analysis of a similarly controversial issue of media violence has shown. On the one hand, the concept of moral panic has little to do with the problem regarding the treatment of mentally incapacitated people as potential criminals. On the other hand, the ethical implications of the above decision are very likely to have a tangible effect on the moral fabric of society. By assuming that mentally unstable people and people with mental health issues pose a serious threat to society as possible criminals, one may create an impression of holding prejudices against the specified denizens of the population (Hartley-McAndrew & Crawford, 2016). The above assumption conflicts with the principles of democracy that the current American society is built on. There is a threat that the given assumption will lead to the development of social moods that may restrict the freedoms of the specified members of the U.S. population. One might claim that the phenomenon under analysis cannot be deemed as entirely negative as it may serve as the means of preventing the actual crime from occurring.

Tools for Managing the Related Threats

While the means for addressing the issue above are not yet defined clearly, a range of strategies for managing the development of prejudice and averting the threat of victimization along with the one of an attack from a mentally unstable person, have been suggested.

First and most obvious, awareness must be raised so that the information regarding the subject matter could be made available to all those concerned. As a result, the effects of moral panic are going to be reduced significantly. Even though the link between the development of criminal behavior and the existence of specific mental health issues is yet to be tested, it is crucial that people should educate themselves about the issue. Consequently, a mass campaign aimed at raising awareness is often viewed as a possible tool.

Risk Rates and the Means of Addressing Them

Because of the ambiguity of the subject matter and the lack of clarity regarding the identification of potential malefactors among mentally unstable people, the risk rates cannot be defined with a significant amount of precision.

Methodology Themes

The research under analysis is liked closely to a variety of themes as far as its methods are concerned.

Theme 1

The innovativeness of the study can be viewed as the primary theme to be addressed when it comes to discussing the research. As ti has been stressed above, the study under analysis explores the areas that have not yet been addressed fully due to the obscurity of the subject matter and the potential ethical implications that it might trigger. Therefore, though addressed in several recent studies, the problem of mental health issues and the unwillingness of people to connect the subject matter to the increasing crime rates due to moral panic still needs further exploration.

Theme 2

Another theme that is closely linked to the methodology of the paper, the issue regarding the topicality of the study needs to be addressed. Although the problem of victimization of people with mental issues cannot be deemed as critical at present, several studies point to the fact that the subject matter needs further analysis (Kaszeta, 2014). On the one hand, the fear for personal safety, which people experience when considering the possibility for patients with mental issues to be prone to criminal behavior, is understandable. On the other hand, claiming that people with mental deficiencies are more likely to commit crimes means victimizing them and, thus, depriving them of their basic human rights.

Theme 3

In this respect the theory of criminal behavior needs to be addressed as one of the elements of methodology – or, to be more specific, the theoretical framework that the research analysis is going to be based on. At this point, the fact that the number of criminal behavior theories is rather vast needs to be brought up. As a rule, biological, sociological, and traditional criminal behavior theories are identified. As the names of the theories above suggest, the biological one tends to view criminal behavior as intrinsic due to a specific set of biological characteristics, whereas the sociological one attempts viewing the problem from the perspective of the social interactions. In other words, in contrast to the former, the latter suggests that people, in general, and mental patients, in particular, start committing crimes as a result of the influence that their social environment has on them. The traditional criminal behavior theory, in its turn, assumes that the criminal behavior should be viewed as the impact of a blend of the biological and social factors. (Adler, Mueller, & Laufer, 2012).

Theme 4

Another theme that can be linked to the methodology, the concept of a survey as the tool for data retrieval can be reviewed.


Seeing that the research to be carried out seeks the answer to the question regarding the relations that can be defined as qualitative, there is no tangible need to quantify the output. Thus, it will be reasonable to assume that a qualitative research design is the best choice for the paper. To answer the question above, therefore, one will have to consider qualitative relationships between the dependent (i.e., the perception of people with mental issues as possible criminals by the society) and the independent (i.e., the power of moral panic) variables.

The survey mentioned above will be used as the primary source for retrieving the data from the target population. 120 people will be selected to participate in the research and be provided with survey questions to respond to. The surveys will be distributed electronically; however, prior to retrieving responses from the participants, one will have to provide the latter with a consent form that they will have to fill in so that their answers could be used for the study. As far as the people under age are concerned, their parents or guardians will have to consider signing the consent form.

The survey results will be sampled with the help of the random sampling technique. The above approach will contribute to the promotion of objectivity in research as it will help locate the answers that are not connected to each other and, therefore, provide an unbiased representation of the situation. It is assumed that a random sampling of 20 responses will suffice for an all-embracive analysis.

The coding technique will be used to locate the necessary information. A taxonomy of codes that will help identify certain patterns in the responses of the participants will be developed. It is suggested that the codes such as “moral panic,” “criminal development,” “etiological factors,” etc. will have to be included into the taxonomy so that the information could be arranged in the most efficient manner and that correct conclusions could be made. The concept of etiological factors brought up above can be defined as the factor that served as the pivoting point of the problem development (Stevens, 2013). In other words, it has a direct relation to the subject matter as it helps gain a better insight on the issues regarding the development of criminal behavioral patterns in people with mental health impairments.

Identifying the codes that occur the most frequently in the responses of the surveys created, one is likely to receive enough data needed to either confirm or subvert the hypothesis concerning the issue in question. It is expected that the study will return the results that show the deplorable effects of moral panic in relation to health issues and criminology.

The further analysis, therefore, will be aimed at locating the frequency of the occurrence of particular codes. The latter, in their turn, will be interpreted so that the relationships between the key variables could be identified and that the research question could be answered. At present, it is expected that a significant rate of correlation between the attitude towards the issue of mental health and the increasingly high rates of moral panic will be identified. The link between the crimes committed and the number of people suffering from specific health issues, in its turn, is highly unlikely to be represented. The effects that the current moral stance on the treatment of people with mental impairments and the criminalization thereof, in its turn, is likely to be located comparatively fast.


It should be noted, though, that the study under analysis has its limitations, the sample size being the key one. Since the research can be defined as time-bound, carrying out a vast analysis of the subject matter including a larger number of samples is impossible. Therefore, the outcomes of the study will have to be approximated.

In addition, there are high possibility rates for the outcomes of the study to be affected by the personal stance of the research on the subject matter. Even though the study under analysis does not use interviews and adopts the surveying technique instead, the chances for the results of the analysis to be affected by the personal convictions of the author of the paper are rather high. The rates of the research objectivity can be enhanced by adopting a rigid methodology technique.

Internal and External Validity

Validity is a highly important concept in research, especially in its experiment-based kind. The term ‘validity’ denotes the extent to which a given study is logical and lucid, as far as its factual and causal claims are concerned (Maxfield & Babbie, 2014, p. 127). When one evaluates the merits of a research study, they frequently discuss its internal and external validity: while both types are equally important, they do, nevertheless, frequently present a trade-off in experimental research.

Internal validity refers to the study’s own consistency, logic, and soundness. Thus, a researcher that produces an internally valid study ensures that the logic that they apply to the research subjects is consistent and clear. Typically, internal validity is maximized when the researcher has greater control over the experiment and can claim with greater certainty that the conclusions of their study are, in fact, reliable. For instance, a researcher claims that victimization is the leading predictor of future engagement in violent crime. If they can isolate other variables that may affect this link in their study sample – for instance, the socioeconomic status of the respondents – then they produce a more internally valid study.

However, the more control the researcher exercises over the study, the more it undermines its external validity as the experiment’s conditions become somewhat artificial. External validity refers to the extent to which the study’s findings are generalizable in respect to the general population, and not just to the study’s sample. A researcher attempting to maximize the study’s external validity will try to conduct an experiment in more natural conditions – however, the less control a researcher has over the study, the less internally valid its findings tend to be.


The connection between mental health and the development of behavioral patterns that can be defined as criminal needs further analysis as groundless assumptions made in the specified area may lead to the infringement of people’s rights. Indeed, the victimization of mentally impaired people is against the current principles of democracy as it jeopardizes the safety of the target denizens of the population. However, apart from affecting people with mental deficiencies, the specified issue also poses a significant concern to the wellbeing of the rest of the U.S. population. In case the supposition regarding the connection between the mental health of a person and their inclination toward a certain criminal behavior pattern is correct, the lack of action toward facilitating the safety of the rest of the U.S. citizens may lead to drastic results.

Therefore, a detailed analysis of the subject matter must be carried out. A study will attempt at answering the question regarding the connection between the concept of moral panic and the process of identifying people with mental issues as possible criminals. In other words, the study will focus on identifying how the phenomenon of moral panic shapes people’s perception of mental patients as possible criminals.

The significance of the problem is quite obvious. In the era that heralds democracy as the foundation for the development of social justice, the issue of victimization of mental patients must be addressed as the subject of concern. Moreover, the wellbeing of the people that are affected by the issue is questioned until the problem is resolved.

It is expected that the current stance on the issue of mental patients and their relation to the current crime rates will be reviewed from the perspective of the contemporary social justice. Te study will, therefore, shed some light on whether the phenomenon of moral panic prevents people from victimizing mentally impaired patients, whether the society judges the latter, or whether an objective viewpoint on the subject of the research is supported in the American society.

Reference List

Adler, F., Mueller, G. O. W., & Laufer, W. S. (2012). Criminal justice: An introduction. (6th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Gehrke, P. J., & Keith, W. M. (2014). A century of communication studies: The unfinished conversation. New York., NY: Routledge.

Gold, L. H., & Simon, R. I. (2015). Gun violence and mental illness. Opa-Locka, FL: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Falkof, N. (2015). Satanism and family murder in late Apartheid South Africa: Imagining the end of whiteness. New York, NY: Springer.

Hartley-McAndrew, M., & Crawford, D. (2016). A commentary on autism and moral development: What can we learn from the Sandy Hook School shooting? North American Journal of Medical Science, 6(3), 1–7.

Kaszeta, D. (2014). CBRN and hazmat incidents at major public events: Planning and response. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Large, M. M., Ryan, C. J., Callaghan, S., Paton, M. B., & Singh, S. P. (2013). Can violence risk assessment really assist in clinical decision-making? Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 48(3), 286-288.

Maxfield, M., & Babbie, E. (2014). Research methods for criminal justice and criminology (2nd ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Meloy, R. J., & Hoffmann, J. (2013). International handbook of threat assessment. Boston, MA: OUP USA.

Paterson, B., McIntosh, I., Wilkinson, D., McComish, S., & Smith, I. (2012). Corrupted cultures in mental health inpatient settings. Is restraint reduction the answer? Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 1(1), 1-16. Web.

Stevens, H. (2013). Crime and mental disorders. Aarhus C: Aarhus University.

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