Mental illness is a complicated phenomenon. In some cases, mental illness may make the affected individuals dangerous to the people around them. The present paper is focused on the analysis and discussion of a scenario involving a mentally ill hostage-taker. A team of negotiators present at the scene will have to come up with a course of action by means of studying the personality and mental state of the offender, his motifs, likely responses, and potential actions. This will be done through the collection of information from mental health consultants, the offender’s relatives, fellow inmates, and the correction facility personnel. Based on this data, an effective approach to negotiation will be chosen.
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There exist a wide range of mental illnesses and conditions all of which have different signs, symptoms, and manifestations. Some of such illnesses show themselves in a more subtle way that an affected individual can be able to hide, and others are very disruptive to the affected person’s everyday life and can negatively impact people around. In the latter cases when bystanders become threatened by people suffering from mental health problems, it can be particularly difficult to intervene and find ways to reason with the aggressive and frustrated mentally ill persons.
The present project is focused on the kind of a situation where an individual with a mental illness is being dangerous to a group of people around and a professional negotiation team is needed for the purpose of handling the threat. In this paper, first of all, the case scenario will be overviewed with an explanation of the offender’s mental state; further, two most likely mental illnesses that could be affecting him will be discussed.
Next, a group of medical personnel that would be needed at the scene will be described with the rationale for the choices. Moreover, insights as to the degree of danger posed by the offender will be provided taking into account the condition that his requirements are not met. Also, it will be explained what people would need to be present at the scene for the interviews about the offender and the collection of detailed information about his person, background, past behaviors, and other related facts. Finally, the choice of approach to the negotiation with this particular offender will be articulated and justified.
The situation under discussion involves a mentally ill inmate of a maximum security facility in the Northeast who has taken hostage three facility staff members – two representatives of the maintenance personnel and one correction officer. The inmate was identified as Alfredo Albondigas, and he seems to be acting under the impression that there are aliens from another planet living in his cell block. His demand is for them to leave immediately; he wishes to see a flying saucer leaving the exercise yard in the next two hours. Otherwise, he is threatening to kill the maintenance personnel members who, he believes, are working for the aliens. Also, Mr. Albondigas is wearing a self-made aluminum foil hat.
The overall scenario can be regarded as comedic; however, as a real-life situation, it is quite frightening given that the offender is mentally unstable and it is difficult to control or predict his actions. The purpose of the team of negotiators, of which I am a part, is to communicate with the offender for the purpose of ending this standoff. In order to accomplish this task, the negotiation team would have to gather information about Mr. Albondigas, assess his state, make a prediction as to what his illness may be, and then decide what kind of professionals would be required at the scene for the success of the negotiation.
Mental State of the Offender
According to what is known about the behavior of Mr. Albondigas currently, he is experiencing a strong delusion and paranoia. According to DSM-5, delusions are defined as “fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 87). Moreover, there exist several types of delusions categorized in alignment with their major themes and the focus of the affected individuals; some of the most common types of delusions include grandiose, religious, somatic, persecutory, and referential (Whitbourne, 2017).
It is apparent that Mr. Albondigas seems to be affected by a delusion of persecutory type since he is convinced that he is watched by a group of aliens from another planet (Whitbourne, 2017). Additionally, in DSM-5, it is mentioned that delusions are also characterized as bizarre and non-bizarre ones (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). While the latter category of delusions is based on realistic and possible events, the latter type includes beliefs that are implausible and are not connected to real-life experiences.
Mr. Albondigas is under the impression of an implausible situation involving otherworldly beings; as a result, his delusion can be considered bizarre. Another obvious symptom experienced by the offender is the hallucination as he seems to believe that the two maintenance staff members speak an alien tongue when in reality they speak English. This hallucination can be qualified as auditory since it involves the information perceived through hearing.
Possible Mental Illness of the Offender
In DSM-5, delusions and hallucinations are classified as signs of schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Based on what is known about the current behavior and mental state of Mr. Albondigas, it is possible to conclude that he is suffering either from delusional disorder or schizophrenia.
Delusional disorder is, accordingly, characterized by the presence of delusions; however, in this regard, it is important to specify that the delusions have to stay persisted for at least one month for the condition to be diagnosed (Bressert, 2017). Earlier, delusional disorder used to be referred to as “paranoid disorder”, which indicated the presence of paranoid conditions as a sign of this disorder. This condition is known for the affected person’s inability to distinguish between reality and products of their imagination (Bressert, 2017). Overall, delusional disorder is quite rare, and the vast majority of its cases include non-bizarre delusional behaviors; however, bizarre delusions (as in the case of Mr. Albondigas) are possible as well (“Mental health and delusional disorder,” 2017).
The second possible condition affecting the offender is schizophrenia. This psychotic disorder is also characterized by the presence of delusions and hallucinations (Whitbourne, 2017). However, the auditory hallucinations that are experienced by Mr. Albondigas as a part of his general delusion are commonly found in patients suffering from schizophrenia (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Similar to the delusional disorder, the signs of schizophrenia are to be observed for at least one month in order to diagnose an individual; additionally, disturbances related to the manifestations of this condition may be observed for a longer period.
Also, the type of schizophrenia that is accompanied by fixed beliefs that the affected individual is being watched or followed, and the overall fear of perceived danger or threat is known as paranoid schizophrenia (Slatkin, 2009). Impacted by this condition, a person may misinterpret the information they see or hear and stick with their distorted beliefs completely disregarding any evidence disproving them (Slatkin, 2009). The actions of Mr. Albondigas align with these characteristics and point to the possibility that he is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
Description of a Psychotic Offender
There is a set of features, traits, and behaviors that are typical for psychotic offenders, especially the ones suffering from delusions driven by paranoid beliefs. In particular, such offenders are known for hallucinations and delusions that serve as the basis for their actions. Another typical feature is aggressive behavior expressed through hostile attitudes towards people around, disdain, distrust, and contempt (Slatkin, 2010).
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Moreover, offenders suffering from psychotic conditions such as paranoid schizophrenia and delusional disorder are nervous, jumpy, fearful, and highly suspicious. Also, they are likely to panic, often experience the feeling of dread, and cannot tolerate closeness or touch (Slatkin, 2010). The speech of such persons can either be inconsistent and incoherent with long pauses and unfinished phrases or rather well-organized and eloquent.
Attempting to negotiate with persons affected by paranoid schizophrenia or delusional disorder, professionals have to keep in mind that such people are unlikely to maintain contact and relate to others; at the same time, they can read into the words and look for conspiracies and hidden meanings (Strentz, 2011). They are extremely suspicious and can be especially hostile towards mental health practitioners and attempts of treatment or medication (Slatkin, 2010).
In addition, a hostage-taker of this kind is likely to feel superior, intellectualize their feelings, and can interpret kindness, sensitivity, or any kind of affection from the side of a same-sex individual as a homosexual seduction attempt which will push the offender away (Slatkin, 2010). In order for such an offender to relate to the negotiator, the latter should stick to a distant and aloof manner of communication and avoid humor and sarcasm (Slatkin, 2010).
Medical Personnel Needed at the Scene
Some of the most important medical practitioners needed at the scene would be mental health professionals specializing in delusional disorder and paranoid schizophrenia. These practitioners will help analyze the current mental state of the offender, his likely future actions, and his overall attitudes and inclinations. According to Kicsis (2009), the employment of a mental health consultant during the negotiation process with a mentally ill hostage-taker is a necessity; this action has proved very effective in terms of standoff resolutions involving the surrender of offenders, as well as helped make the course of negotiations more peaceful and decrease the change of hostages being hurt.
Additionally, the other medical personnel that could be used at the scene would be a team of nurses and attendants from a closed mental health facility who have experience of working with aggressive and dangerous patients unwilling to comply with the medical instructions.
The role of these professionals would be to take over the patient and provide post-incident medical care in the case the negotiation ends with him getting arrested. Additionally, a team of emergency medical professionals will be needed in the case if the offender decides to hurt his hostages. This means will have to be equipped with all the necessary devices to provide emergency care and ensure the patients’ wellbeing on the way to a hospital.
Also, it is important to make sure that the offender does not see any of the medical personnel present at the scene because any thought of treatment, medication, or hospitalization may cause an emotional crisis to Mr. Albondigas and endanger the hostages.
Predictions of the Offender’s Actions
Analyzing the behavior of the present hostage-taker, it is critical to take into consideration his mental state and condition. In particular, Schneider and Honeyman (2006) specified that dealing with such offenders, negotiators should always be focused on the fact that the hostage-taker is affected by a mental illness and that the motifs that drive the offender’s actions lie in the mental disorder. In that way, attempting to predict the actions of Mr. Albondigas, the negotiators are to keep in mind that his actions and judgments may be irrational and it would be a great benefit and a surprise if during the negotiation the offender shows himself as a rational and logical person.
In that way, the predictions of this offender’s actions should align with the description of a typical hostage-taker suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, delusional disorder, and a psychotic condition in general.
It is likely that the hostage-taker is extremely nervous at the moment; he may be affected by such feelings and dread and fear (Strentz, 2011). Due to his paranoid condition driven by the delusion that he is being watched by aliens from another planet, he may still think that some kind of plan is going on behind his back. As a result, he may be very suspicious of everyone who attempts to interact with him. The slightest crisis may set him off and lead to irreparable damage and severely increase the danger faced by the hostages.
Mr. Albondigas will not tolerate any attempts to approach him; any kind of physical touching should be out of the question while he still presents a threat to the hostages. Also, it is quite typical for this kind of hostage-takers to become increasingly more nervous if they notice the presence of their relatives or friends at the scene (Kicsis, 2009). Moreover, the negotiations may completely lose his trust if they let him notice the representatives of healthcare facilities and the police at the site.
Speaking with the negotiation team, Mr. Albondigas will be likely to show signs of distrust and read into their words and actions attempting to uncover conspiracies. A straightforward style of communication must be the major preference in this negotiation (Strentz, 2011). Additionally, Mr. Albondigas will not respond positively to kindness, sensitivity, compassion, or affection. Instead, these may make him more suspicious and nervous. The offender will be more likely to respond to a distant and unemotional negotiator. Also, there is a chance that he may decide to use the correction office whom he holds hostage as a negotiator on his behalf – this type of behavior is common for hostage-takers with paranoid schizophrenia (Slatkin, 2010).
In addition, narcissistic behaviors may take place as well because they are often present in delusional and schizophrenic individuals (Kocsis, 2009). To be more precise, the initial motif that caused Mr. Albondigas to take hostages was self-centered – he was sure that a group of aliens from another planet was collecting data about him and, as a result, he created the dramatic situation for the purpose of forcing the aliens out of the facility. In that way, he may be convinced to be smarter and more perceptive than everybody else. The negotiators must be aware of his potential for seeking secret meanings in their words and actions and avoid phrases that could be misinterpreted.
People Needed for the Collection of Information about the Offender
When it comes to the information required about the offender, the team of negotiators would not only mean mental health consultants and psychologists to help understand the actions, behaviors, and mental state of Mr. Albondigas.
Dealing with a hostage-taker affected by a mental condition such as paranoid schizophrenia or delusional disorder, the team of negotiators needs to be informed about the conditions that preceded the crisis situation (Schneider & Honeyman, 2006). In particular, the negotiators will have to explore the triggers that drove Mr. Albondigas to the decision to take hostages. For that, the people who surrounded the offender throughout the day and immediately prior to his break down will have to be brought to the scene and interviewed.
In addition, judging from the scenario created by the offender – it seems that there has been a while from the moment he first started to suspect that he was watched by someone to the time when he became convinced that his enemy were aliens from another planet and that he had to make them leave no matter what. In that way, people who were close with the offender and communicated with him throughout the last several months will need to be interviewed as well.
They should be inquired about noticing signs of a mental condition such as hallucinations and delusions, disorientation, paranoia, incoherent speech, the periods when such signs were noticed, and how the surrounding people responded to them. It may be possible that someone played a particularly active role in supporting the offender’s delusions by playing along or that someone knows a part of his beliefs that has not surfaced yet.
In other words, people who were incarcerated together with Mr. Albondigas and the correction facility personnel members who worked with him need to be interviewed for the purpose of obtaining more information about the offender. In addition, the other people who may have some valuable information are relatives and friends of Mr. Albondigas who may know something about the older incidence of his condition, as well as its manifestations and his reactions and behaviors during times of crisis.
There is a variety of negotiation approaches based on multiple psychological theories that can be applied to the negotiation with mentally ill individuals. However, not all of them are suitable to the particular case of Mr. Albondigas.
Choosing from the range of theoretic approaches, I would definitely prefer to apply the Trait Theory approach and use it for the purpose of understanding the kind of personality I have to address. In particular, using five groups of traits – extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience – trait theory could help make sense of the offender’s drivers and triggers (Whitbourne, 2017). In particular, one can tell that on the scale of neuroticism, Mr. Albondigas is a high scorer demonstrating such features as nervousness, worrying, and emotionality; and on the scale of agreeableness, he is a low scorer due to being suspicious and critical. The rest of the aspects would need to be explored with the help of interviews with his family members, friends, and fellow inmates.
Moreover, as a basis for the more active part of the negotiation, it may make sense to choose the behavioral approach that could help the hostage-taker to focus on more positive aspects of the situation (Whitbourne, 2017). Using this approach, the negotiators will implicitly communicate the success of Mr. Albondigas’ actions to him, validating his emotions and feelings, and taking seriously his ideas and fears. In that way, the selfish and narcissistic traits of his personality could, if triggered properly, help him build a positive ending to his delusion and become convinced that the flying saucer is leaving the exercise yard.
The situation discussed in this paper is a complex scenario involving a mentally ill hostage-taker whose delusions made him a threat to the surrounding people. The task of the negotiation team was to analyze his mental state and behavior and create a plan of action based on the conclusions. In particular, in the present situation, it was decided to engage several mental health professionals as consultants and post-incident care providers, carry out interviews with the people who knew the offender and could provide additional information about him, and apply trait theory and behavioral approaches as the bases for negotiations.
The former approach would be used as a tool to help study the offender’s motifs, drivers, and personality, and the latter – to implicitly motivate him to view the entire situation in a more optimistic light and, eventually, become convinced of his victory and release the hostages.
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