Is kleptomania a mental disorder?

What makes humans far more superior creatures and able to do many things to the extent of being able to control a lot of matter on Earth? The human mind, right? It is true that other mammal creatures have brains but the human’s brain is more complex and able to perform many things in life. However, not everyone will have a great state of mind. While a good healthy mind can be great, an unhealthy one can be devastating. In this DoctorOnCall’s article, we will be learning about kleptomania.

Kleptomania is a mental disorder. You may have heard a lot of violence or crime being revolved around mental disorders, especially when mentioning those with kleptomania. Even so, it is best for you to understand not all mental disorders will end up with violence or crime. What exactly is mental disorder then? Mental disorder is characterised by clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotional regulation or behaviour. It is worth noting that mental disorders can be occasional or even a life-long constant issue. Mental disorder often is associated with distress or impairment in areas of functioning. By the end of this article, you should be able to comprehend why kleptomania is a mental disorder.

Kleptomania is characterised as an impulse control disorder. It is a condition where a person experiences a consistent impulse to steal items they do not need. Kleptomania makes a person feel an urge to steal, a feeling of tension before stealing and a feeling of relief during or immediately after stealing. The things that people with kleptomania steal usually have little value and are often disposed of or given away after it is stolen.

Kleptomania often begins in adolescence but may occur in children and adults. It is more common among females than males. Symptoms of kleptomania include persistent and recurrent impulse to steal items that is not needed for personal use nor bring financial gain, increased tension before a theft, relief at the moment of theft and guilt or shame after thefts, individuals are not committed to do the stealing action by delusion, mania or hallucination, theft are not motivated by revenge or anger and last but not least, a person’s theft cannot be better explained by other mental health issues such as Antisocial Personality Disorder, Conduct Disorder and manic episode.

Kleptomania is often confused with OCD. OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder is defined as mental health conditions in which a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. Obsessive thoughts are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges that trigger distressing feelings intensely. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours as an attempt to get rid of the obsession, neutralising and/or minimise the obsession. For example, people with OCD may have obsessive thoughts of fear of contamination and the compulsive behaviour will be the excessive cleaning and/or handwashing.

Reasons being why the two different mental disorders often seem to have connection is because of the similar pattern of impulsiveness. However, in kleptomania, there is a sense of hedonic quality such as gratitude or feeling content when stealing whereas in OCD, patients do not experience any joy after stealing things. What more, in OCD patients, the compulsive behaviour is done only to lower the distress feeling and not to obtain excitement or fun. Kleptomania often results in crime whereas OCD usually does not. Furthermore, The possibility of a female to have kleptomania is triple that of men whereas the possibility of a female to have OCD is only slightly greater than male.

Just as with any other mental disorder, it is vital for patients to get treatment. If a patient is unable to get treatment themselves, people around them should help the patient to get checked by a doctor. Getting the right diagnosis and treatment can help a person to have a happier and fulfilling life. Common treatment includes psychotherapy, medications and even both in combination. It is worth noting that certain mental health issues can be a lifelong condition which makes it difficult for both patients and caregiver or family to cope. In such cases, both sides need to get support from a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist. This will ensure patients get the maximal care needed and the caregiver or family can always be their strongest support system.

It can be concluded that kleptomania is indeed a mental disorder as it impairs a person’s function to have a good virtue in life. It may also make a person secluded from society due to the misunderstanding of the conditions itself. Hence, it is important for patients to try to get help from a psychiatrist. Patients should never feel any guilt or embarrassment in seeking support for their mental wellbeing. Kleptomania should not be a definite excuse in enabling potential crime. Kleptomania is among the very few psychiatric disorders in which crime is medicalised and used as legal defence. Even though there is no cure for kleptomania, treatment available does help to reduce the compulsive stealing and in hope to put an end to the vicious cycle.

Also read – Dengue Prevention.