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When mental illness diagnosis would be welcomed: Oscar Pistorius trial

South African runner Oscar Pistorius appears at hospital for psychiatric testing on Memorial Day.
South African runner Oscar Pistorius appears at hospital for psychiatric testing on Memorial Day.
Oscar Pistorius' account

Few people who suffer from mental illness want to go on record with their disorder publicly due to the stigma such a condition can elicit. But in the case of Oscar Pistorius, who is on trial for his life, the South African athlete appears to be opting for the lesser of two evils by claiming a generalized anxiety disorder through his defense-hired psychiatrist Dr. Merryll Vorster.

The Associated Press reported via MSN on May 26 that Pistorius had arrived on Monday as commanded by the judge in his criminal murder case to a government psychiatric hospital, so he could undergo 30 days of out-patient testing in order to determine if the diagnosis by his defense witness can be substantiated.

Judge Thokozile Masipa acquiesced to the chief prosecutor in the case, who requested the court order an official mental health exam in order to determine if mental illness played a role in the death of Reeva Steenkamp, or if the model's self-confessed killer was trying to avoid a murder conviction by claiming he was not criminally responsible due to the alleged anxiety disorder.

The prosecution feels Pistorius needs to be analyzed by four unbiased psychiatrists for an extended period of time, rather than a mere two visits with a medical professional hired by his defense team at the conclusion of his murder trial. So he will undergo testing for 30 consecutive days, while also being allowed to leave the facility at night, returning each morning.

Oscar Pistorius might appear to be someone who would do anything to avoid having the stigma of the label "mentally ill" attached to his name. And the Mayo Clinic says those with such conditions are sometimes reluctant to seek help due to the stigma attached to mental illnesses, despite their need to do so. But in Pistorius' case, if he can get the psychiatric hospital to confirm his anxiety disorder diagnosis, it could keep him out of a long prison sentence.

Faking mental illness to avoid jail and prison time is not uncommon in the criminal world, of course. And the judicial system in South Africa as well as the United States are all too familiar with this ploy, which appears to be why the chief prosecutor asked that the former boyfriend of the murder victim be examined by four other medical experts chosen by the court.

The real mentally ill in society need compassion, support and understanding, according to the Mayo Clinic. And too often they do not get it due to the stigma that surrounds the diseases of the brain. And that is unfortunate, as it can lead to someone not seeking the help they need, not being able to talk openly about their illness, and enjoying fewer work or school opportunities.

So if Reeva Steenkamp's killer is playing at having a mental illness in order to get out of a murder conviction, then the court needs to deal with him more harshly than before, as he will have not only killed his former girlfriend on Valentine's Day in cold blood, but he will have tried to use one of the most vulnerable (and stigmatized) segments of society as a hiding place in order to get away with it.

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