View Full Version : What kind of mental illness could cause her to behave in this manner?

10-20-2013, 04:21 AM
Never mind.

10-20-2013, 05:47 AM
Maybe check out the shared psychotic disorder, also known as folie a deux ("the folly of two")

10-20-2013, 06:20 AM
Certain psychiatric medications can cause psychosis as a side effect in some people, notably children/teens. Maybe she has something else, like depression, and exhibits symptoms of psychosis after being put on a med or a new med.

Eric Harris was taking prescribed Luvox, and a therapeutic dose was found in his body during the autopsy. From what I understand, Klebold's medical records were sealed but friends have made statements saying that they witnessed him taking Paxil and Zoloft.

Stopping psychiatric meds suddenly can also cause some bad symptoms.

You might go and search for SSRIs and violence, especially school violence and minors. There is a huge amount of information on the subject out there.

10-20-2013, 06:32 AM
Darn it I lost my post. :( And it was a good one, too.

Anyway, to say it more concisely, basically my point was that I think you might be better off trying not to focus on what disorder she has and trying to figure out what motivates her. Having a disorder doesn't "cause" a person to commit atrocities. It might contribute, but it doesn't cause it. People are always looking for a place to put the blame in situations like this, but there isn't an easy one.

I just went to a seminar on school shooters, and one of the things we were told was that there is no profile. People come from a variety of backgrounds and have a variety of motives. There might be some commonalities, such as many of them (but not all) were suicidal, and some (but not all) were angry over a specific thing, but they all showed warning signs that were obvious after the fact. These warning signs are just different for each person. It doesn't happen out of the blue.

The thing is, a disorder doesn't cause a person to act this way. A person acts in a way because of a variety of things that happened and influenced their choices. Their personality will play a big role. I think what you need to do is ask yourself what her motivation is, because I can promise her motivation isn't "I have bipolar disorder."

Why does she want to do this? Why does he want to do it? What do they hope to accomplish? What sort of feeling are you hoping to bring out in the reader? Do you want a sympathetic character, or a horrific one?

You really need to map out who they are as people and what their back stories are so that you can understand why they would do it. And considering the lack of any real defining characteristics of school shooters, if it's believable to you, it's possible.

10-20-2013, 06:35 AM
There's really a million different things that could cause her to plan a massacre. It doesn't necessarily have to be psychosis, either. She could have Antisocial Personality Disorder, but I don't know if that fits your overall character. My advice would be to read over the personality disorders listed in the DSM-IV (I believe it's online for free), and pick which one makes sense.

For the dude, though, I'd recommend Borderline Personality Disorder. It would make a lot of sense with the troublemaking/bad boy persona. Also, borderline people have a perpetual fear of people abandoning them, so he might go along with the girl just because he doesn't want to lose her. An additional dose of codependency would work, too.

10-20-2013, 06:36 AM
Also keep in mind that if you make a character have antisocial personality disorder or reactive attachment disorder or something of that nature, it's going to completely change any relationship she might have.

10-20-2013, 06:41 AM
The girl is kind of your average high school girl, despite being an outsider. The guy transfers to her school, and he is portrayed to be a troublemaker and mentally unstable, but for some reason, she is drawn to him, and forges a connection with him, which leads to them developing plans of murder together.

As an aside - and I know I'm dating myself - this synopsis made me immediately think of the movie Heathers.

Do your characters just plan the massacre, or do they actually carry it out? Do they plan to survive?

From the little I know about the Columbine killers, it appears that Eric Harris was a sociopath with no empathy for others and a sense of superiority, while Dylan Klebold was depressive and wanted revenge.

If your characters are romantically/sexually involved with each other, that's a whole other element. You may want to look at Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate's killing spree from the 50's.

10-20-2013, 06:48 AM
Don't worry about the exact mental pathology. Write your book and then, if you feel the need to diagnose them, do it then.

Bottom line, there can be a range from absolutely no mental pathology of significance to a myriad variety of mental health issues.

Psychopaths (sociopaths) only rarely causes a person to become homicidal. Depression also very rarely leads to murder. The pathology of Harris and Klebold was not very significant, and both were far from any argument of criminal insanity. No one has reliably stated pre-shooting concerns. School shooters do not fit any sort of mold, and are incredibly wide ranging. Adam Lanza's disorder was more pronounced, but not that noticeable. James Holmes has a much more distinct mental pathology and was noticeable prior to his shooting up the movie theater.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

10-20-2013, 06:49 AM
I agree with kaitie's and jclark's posts--that I think it'd be more convincing if you focused on character and motivation rather than sticking a label for a disorder on them and trying to stay with a clinical outline of how those people are supposed to act. If you do that, you sort of create generalizations instead of people.

I also don't know that they necessarily need to have specific mental illnesses. People manage to justify killing other people all the time without having them. Religious killings, wars, vendettas, "othering," etc. A mental illness won't "cause" them to commit a massacre; what will "cause" it is the manner in which the characters justify it. Of course, mental illnesses can alter a person's logic and therefore shape how they might justify such a thing, so it could certainly be a factor--but I should think any number of illnesses could do this, and you'd do better to simply focus on your character's means of justifying rather than "picking" a disorder, so to speak. :D

10-20-2013, 07:26 PM
You've gotten some good advice, here. If you still want a specific disorder, check out the Writer's Guide to Psychology (http://www.amazon.com/Writers-Guide-Psychology-Psychological-ebook/dp/B004ISLNS8/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1382282640&sr=8-3&keywords=psychology+writing) by Carolyn Kaufman. It covers all the basic mental illnesses, discussing symptoms and causes, so you can choose the one that best fits and then work within the confines of its symptoms.

10-20-2013, 08:43 PM
Totally agree with everybody, but as a last point: wasn't there a killer who killed his wife and his wife's mother before committing a shooting at his university - I think from the roof - who, after being killed by police, was found to have a massive tumour pressing on the part of the brain associated with aggression? Sorry to be so sketchy on the details.

But, one last thing that I find a little disturbing about your post with regards to this subject matter, is the way you seem to be looking for a "tick box" answer - yes, THIS is why my character does this. The human brain is still such a mystery that it will be very difficult, in terms of portrayal, to suggest that this is "the answer."

Sure, some medications have been found to trigger/increase psychotic episodes (and I'd imagine you'd have to use a fictional substitute if you didn't want to be sued within an inch of your life), and some serious mental illnesses do cause psychotic episodes, but I'd be surprised if a psychotic episode would leave someone with the logical faculties to "plot" a massacre, and there's been a lot of (justified) discussion about the stigma that brands all mentally ill people as axe-waving crazies. However, I'd be very interested in a YA novel, in the vein of SIDE EFFECTS (at least without the descent into B-movie insanity in the last half), that debated "was it crazy love/mental illness/medication that made her do it?" But I don't know if you understand that, if you introduce an element like this into the story, it's a question, not an answer.

10-20-2013, 10:07 PM
Small note - psychopathy and sociopathy are not synonymous. Sociopathy is basically synonymous with ASPD, which is the current term for what used to be sociopathy (and what was before that psychopathy). However, the current definition/use of psychopathy is an offshoot attempting to separate out a group from the ASPD wheelhouse, basically. :)

Also, what people say they noticed about Harris and Klebold and what their parents refused to notice are, imo, two very different things.

I think you'd be wise to take what Katie said to heart - a diagnosis doesn't cause any action. It can add to a likelihood, or help explain a motivation or whatever, but it's not 'she's a psychopath, thus she...'

10-21-2013, 03:03 AM
Never mind.

10-21-2013, 03:40 AM
Re: the DSM psychopathy was replaced by the term sociopathy. People now treat them as distinct, but one is just a historical term and one a current term of the same category.

10-21-2013, 05:47 AM
Hi - so I got to this conversation and it was made for me to join in. I wrote my master's thesis (forensic psych) on male/female team serial killers. I have reviewed every single documented case of serial killer pairs in the world from 1900 until 2000. My thesis compared those cases with document cases of shared psychosis where murder was committed. I also looked at cult suicide/killings as well.

Anyway, I agree with 90% of what is written above. I found through all my research that there are usually no discernible mental disorders found in the submissive (usually the female) cases of these pairings. There are a lot of social factors that contribute to willingness to participate in the crimes however - including loneliness, isolation (real or imagined) and dependence on the other person.

I could type all night on this subject, which would probably bore most people, but if you have any specific questions, feel free to private message me. I literally have hundreds of pages of research on this exact topic.

10-21-2013, 07:55 AM
Re: the DSM psychopathy was replaced by the term sociopathy. People now treat them as distinct, but one is just a historical term and one a current term of the same category.

Neither is current in the DSM. One, psychopathy, is used clinically, but didn't make it into the revision and thus is used clinically in specific manner, dealing with a specific psychometric. They are distinct, that's why psychopathy came back into being, basically, to, as I said, separate out a population from those with ASPD, which is what replaced sociopathy in the DSM.

10-21-2013, 03:38 PM
Anyway, to say it more concisely, basically my point was that I think you might be better off trying not to focus on what disorder she has and trying to figure out what motivates her. Having a disorder doesn't "cause" a person to commit atrocities. It might contribute, but it doesn't cause it. People are always looking for a place to put the blame in situations like this, but there isn't an easy one.


There is a difference between illness and motivation. Just because someone is depressed doesn't mean they are going to kill themselves. In the same way that just because someone might plan out how to kill everyone they hate doesn't mean they will go out tomorrow and do it.

Also, don't be tempted to play the blame game on a single aspect. I hate it when people say things like 'He played a lot of violent video games' like that is the defining thing that caused him to do something. What about the millions of us playing the same game who DON'T go out and slaughter innocent people. Equally, the 'he came from a broken home' doesn't explain why the other thrid of the population who also come from broken homes haven't done the same thing.

Instead, look at a combination of things. Maybe the broken home and childhood experiences led to low self worth and anger, combine that with teenage or adult depression and a variety of socially acceptable violent outlets (such as video games) and you can either have someone who takes all of his frustration out in Call of Duty, or someone who's personality tips him the other way and he takes to the streets with an AK47.

What I'm saying is that I agree with Kaitie, it's not black and white.

You need to look at what there is about her - her past, her present, her family, friends, personality, recent events, social status, experiences etc, and what it is that he offers her that makes her take this course.

10-21-2013, 10:44 PM
My 2 cents.. doesn't have to be a specific mental illness. Lack of parental guidance + low self esteem + triggering event could be enough.

I agree with the others. Motive and the story around it is what matters.

What drives them to consider going to such extremes? Even the most mentally deranged won't do things without a reason - specially not something that needs planning.

What is pushing them in this direction and why.

Unless it is a documentary/bio piece, I hope you are giving it a happy ending..