What is malingering?

When people talk about their mental state, we usually believe they are telling the truth. However when it comes to offenders, lying and exaggerating is common practice.

Feigning mental illness can form a strong defense. If the offender did not have mens rea (a Latin term for guilty mind, meaning someone didn’t understand what he was doing or that it was wrong), he may be found not guilty or given a lighter sentence.

Malingering is the name given to people deliberately fabricating or exaggerating symptoms, whether that be physical or mental. For example, someone may pretend to have a limp or pretend to experience hallucinations.

This may involve:

  • Dramatising the presentation or experience of symptoms.
  • Naming well known features of psychological disorders (e.g. hearing voices).
  • Deliberate and careful recounting of what’s happened.
  • Inconsistencies in what they describe vs what’s widely known about the psychological problem in question.

Defendants may believe they can have their case thrown out or get a shorter sentence if they’re considered mentally ill. For this reason, experts have to be on the lookout for any examples of malingering.

Assessments of mental states need to take into account whether an illness is being invented or faked in some way. The best way to do this is usually in the form of an intensive clinical interview, where the person is asked about their life and any issues that have affected him. The interviewer takes note not only of what they are saying, but how they communicate and how they present themselves.

Suspicions may be aroused if:

  • Rare symptoms are reported, especially if there are a lot of them.
  • Claiming a large number of symptoms. Severely ill patients usually only have a few serious symptoms.
  • Unusual and unlikely symptoms are reported.
  • There are inconsistencies with described symptoms.
  • People close to the offender dispute the symptoms. For example someone complaining of tremors that no one has seen.

If you suspect someone of malingering, gathering evidence is the best way to prove this. ICFECI can help with collecting data and information that will bring offenders to justice and get the sentence they deserve.

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