Psychopaths, sociopaths, and mental health stigmas in the Middle East

Psychopaths, sociopaths, and mental health stigmas in the Middle East
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A long with globalization and the rise of social networking, news of events spreads at lightning speed. Unfortunately, most headlines highlight disasters, wars, crises, and crimes, rather than positive developments. Against this backdrop, the probability of hearing about a murder occurring is more likely than ever, with news items often attributing such incidents to sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies among the killers. However psychopathy and sociopathy are in no way synonymous to a tendency to commit such acts. Instead, these disorders occur when a person — voluntarily or involuntarily — lacks proper levels of a key human characteristic: empathy.اضافة اعلان

Empathy, according to Josanne van Dongen, an assistant professor at Erasmus University, is a crucial human ability key for moral development and prosocial behavior (working toward the welfare of others and society). When someone lacks empathetic abilities, it impacts them on a personal and social level. It is not the only factor that leads to psychopathy or sociopathy, but it can pay a role in a diagnosis, and may lead to severe social and cognitive dysfunctions.

Sociopathy and psychopathy: What is the difference?
Dr Bethany Juby, a licensed clinical psychologist, says in her article “What It Actually Means to Be a Sociopath”, that there is no actual difference between sociopathy and psychopathy in a clinical context. Instead, the terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” offer two slightly different ways of understanding the underlying diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, or ASPD. Psychologists and researchers make certain distinctions between the two to better pinpoint behaviors.

According to an article published by the US National Library of Medicine, psychopathy is a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by a multitude of behavioral abnormalities, including a lack of empathy, deficient emotional responses, and poor behavioral controls. In the past in clinical psychology and psychoanalysis, psychopathy was viewed as a term describing, broadly, anyone who violated legal or moral expectations, or as a synonym to “aggressive and irresponsible behavior”, according to Julius Koch’s research on psychopathic inferiority in 1891.

On the other hand, sociopathy, according to Mayo Clinic and Mental Health America, is a mental disorder in which a person consistently shows no regard for right or wrong and ignores the rights and feelings of others. The behavior of sociopaths is typically more impulsive and unpredictable than that of psychopaths.

The reason psychopathy and sociopathy are differentiated by some researchers and psychologists is due to studies that indicate that sociopaths are typically produced by their environment, whereas psychopaths are typically born with ASPD due to genetic predispositions. Moreover, according to psychologist Robert Hare, “people with sociopathy may have little empathy and a habit of rationalizing their actions”. However, he noted that sociopaths typically understand the difference between right and wrong. Meanwhile, psychopathy involves no sense of morality or empathy.

Laila Hammoud, who studied psychology at the American University of Beirut and works as an intern at a clinical child psychology practice, spoke to Jordan News about ASPD. “I think it is important to know that both psychopathy and sociopathy, like most personality disorders and/or mental health disorders, appear in people who are both predisposed genetically and environmentally (to trauma, abuse, stress, etc),” she said. “The idea is, both nature and nurture play a part in the emergence of these disorders and the degree of severity of the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the people who are living with these disorders.”

It is “very important”, Hammoud said, to note that people with psychopathy or sociopathy are not necessarily “bad people”. “A psychopath of the highest order is unfeeling, un-empathetic, and narcissistic, but all that doesn’t stop them from also being intelligent and charming, with a high moral compass. Therefore, some psychopaths are actually very good people — they just don’t feel and think about things the way most of us do.”

Assumptions and understandings
A data analysis suggests that early diagnosis in individuals with ASPD may help lower the ratio of those who resort to criminal activity. One challenge to early diagnosis, however, is the stigmas surrounding mental health issues, especially in the Middle East.

According to Dr Hina Naveed, an experienced pharmacist living in the United Arab Emirates, the Middle East suffers from the highest rates of depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and suicide globally. Added to this fact are a lack of awareness about mental health, limited mental health services, and stigmas which worsen the situation.

Furthermore, in an article titled “Barriers to Mental Health: The Middle Eastern Experience”, Nada Atieh discusses the lack of mental health education in MENA countries. “The concept of psychological health in Middle Eastern culture is constructed through misinformation, a reliance on stereotypes, and exaggerated media reports,” Atieh writes.

If there is no safe space to discuss mental struggles, how can an ASPD-aligned individual work through challenges and maintain a healthy life?

Jordanian Sarah Nimer told Jordan News about her struggles with borderline personality disorder  (BPD), for which she received an official diagnosis. “There is a stigma around this and several mental health disorders in the country because of the lack of awareness, but this is especially true of bipolar, borderline, and other personality disorders.”

“Having this shame culture around them specifically makes it difficult to get people the help they need,” she added.

Jordanian Amal Kiswani also highlighted the shame associated with mental health: “There are myriad reasons why mental health is devalued in Arab culture, but I believe most of it is the importance we put on public image — you know — shame culture.”

Kiswani mentioned that her own struggles with mental health have been met with only ridicule. “As I navigated panic attacks and anxiety in my teenage years, it was hard to find even something as simple as validation from the adults in my life.”

“I ended up having to figure out what was happening to me on my own,” she said.

Understanding the need for change
Contrary to popular belief, psychopaths and sociopaths are not necessarily violent, according to Mental Health America. Neither are all serial killers psychopaths or sociopaths. When intervention occurs, someone diagnosed ASPD can walk a better path in the midst of their struggles.

Whether through early diagnosis to prevent criminal activity, or discussing pent-up emotions in a therapy session, everyone needs someone to talk to — a shoulder to cry on. ASPD diagnoses and general mental disorders should be taken seriously. A simple diagnosis can prevent suicides and murders from happening, and if change does not start now to combat the stigmas around mental health in our Arab countries, then when will it ever begin?

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