Legal Insanity and Mental Illness Many people don’t know that the concept legal insanity differs significantly from that of mental illness (behavioral abnormality diagnosed as psychological disorders). Insanity is not a diagnosis; it is a legal concept indicating that a person cannot be held responsible for his or her actions because of mental illness. The insanity defense is used in criminal trials by defendants who admit that they committed the crime but claim that they lacked intent or that they were so mentally ill at the time of the crime that they could not differentiate between right and wrong. In determining whether a behavior is abnormal (i.e., diagnosing a mental illness), clinicians rely on the following criteria: 1. Is it deviant, or does it violate societal norms, 2. Is it maladaptive, that is, does it impair a person's everyday behavior, and 3. Does it cause them personal distress. Clinicians DO NOT analyze the intent of behavior in diagnosis.
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