Why is our organization so necessary – and why will achieving our goals be so challenging?
— Local affiliate for a major national mental health organization
“Psychopaths are a genetic aberration, the treatment for it is either a mental hospital or prison. They need to be put somewhere where they can live out their lives where they can keep their violence or society destroying lack of empathy for their fellow man in seclusion, away from the rest of us with healthy minds. This foundation is a joke.”
— Anonymous feedback from a recent visitor to our site
The world is awash in organizations dedicated to helping people with mental illness.
In the United States alone, they include large federal organizations like the National Institute of Mental Health, as well as non-profit organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America, and the Child Mind Institute, and professional organizations like the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Given this abundance, one might think it would be easy for individuals and families affected by severe, common, recognized mental disorders like Conduct Disorder (CD), Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), and psychopathy to find the resources and help they need. This is unfortunately not the case.
Before the creation of Psychopathy Is, no organization existed that was dedicated to helping individuals and families affected by any of these disorders. Worse, major mental health organizations like those listed above provide little or no information about psychopathy on their sites. Some also omitted any mention of CD or ASPD, despite both disorders being common, severe, and recognized in major diagnostic manuals like DSM-5. If either disorder was mentioned, it was often relegated to a few sentences only accessible in a sub-sub-menu.
This information desert has left individuals and families affected by these disorders feeling forgotten and stigmatized. And it has reinforced the perception that—despite scientific evidence to the contrary—their conditions are not “real” mental disorders.
The lack of resources for individuals and families affected by disorders that manifest as antisocial behaviors is the reason Psychopathy Is was created. It is the reason our organization is so sorely needed. And it underscores why achieving our mission (dispelling myths about psychopathy, reducing the stigmas surrounding it, and providing information and resources for those affected by psychopathy) will be a challenge—which we knew would be the case from the outset.
Psychopathy is lodged in the imagination of too many people—including many mental health professionals—as solely a moral and legal problem, not a mental disorder. In fact, many people have never heard the term “psychopathy”, even while the term “psychopath” is in common use. This is a problem for many reasons, one of which is that it is now widely accepted that people with mental disorders should never be referred to as their disorder (“schizophrenics” or “depressives”) but rather as people with a disorder like schizophrenia or depression. That the term “psychopath” nevertheless remains in widespread use while the term “psychopathy” remains so unfamiliar underscores how far we have to go in educating the public about psychopathy.
Our organization can only do so much on its own. While our webpage and YouTube channel continue to steadily accrue viewers (our website has accrued over 17,000 views, and our YouTube channel has accrued over 2 million), many people seeking information do not yet know to visit these sites. It is therefore important for us to partner with other mental health organizations to meet our goals. We at Psychopathy Is are endeavoring to do exactly that.
In the background, we have been reaching out to representatives of various local and national non-profit and professional organizations focused on mental health and asking them to provide more information to their visitors about symptoms of and treatments for CD, ASPD, and psychopathy, and to share a link to our organization. We are gratified by our initial successes, with representatives at various national organizations having now updated their webpages in response to our requests. But we know we still have a ways to go, as evidenced by the excerpted quotations above asserting that psychopathy “is not in line” with the goals of one major mental health organization affiliate, and that a foundation aimed at helping those affected by psychopathy is a “joke.”
We naturally recognize that not everyone will share our priorities. We also recognize that asking people to consider the needs of individuals and families affected by psychopathy presents unique challenges compared to other common mental disorders like autism or substance use disorders. Although misunderstandings and stigmas regarding these disorders persist, most people now understand that these disorders can cause significant suffering, that affected individuals are not to blame for their illness, that affected individuals deserve compassion and treatment, and that they can improve with appropriate therapy.
None of this is yet true for psychopathy, which remains widely misperceived as an untreatable “genetic aberration,” with those affected needing, “to be put somewhere…in seclusion, away from the rest of us with healthy minds.” Part of the challenge is that people with psychopathy and related disorders do not themselves seem to be suffering, even while they engage in exploitative and antisocial behaviors that cause others to suffer. This combination can make it difficult to feel compassion for them. And persistent myths that they are untreatable can make it seem as though efforts to treat them would be futile.
But despite these challenges, our successes thus far make us optimistic we will be able to achieve our mission. We are confident that within a decade, people will have come to think of psychopathy much as they think of disorders like autism and substance use now: as mental disorders that result from combined genetic and environmental risk factors, and that can improve with the appropriate treatment. But to achieve this goal we will need help.
Are you affiliated with any organizations dedicated to helping those with mental illness? You can help us today by reaching out to them and requesting they provide their members and visitors to their site with up-to-date information on CD, ASPD, and psychopathy. Please share the link to our organization with them (www.psychopathyis.org) and ask them to review the information we provide and post a link to our site if they believe it is valuable.
We are confident that, together, we can succeed in reducing the myths, stigmas, and burdens that too often confront individuals and families affected by psychopathy today.
Abigail Marsh (@aa_marsh) is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Georgetown University and the author of “The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between.” She is the co-founder of Psychopathy Is.