Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

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i. Depression and anxiety disorders

Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common conditions. It is normal to experience low mood and anxious feelings from time to time. Someone can develop a mental health condition when these feelings become more severe and affect everyday activities.

Common symptoms of depression:

  • experiencing low mood and self esteem
  • lack of energy
  • feeling hopeless and worthless
  • difficulties in concentrating and making decisions
  • poor memory.

Common symptoms of anxiety:

  • feeling irritable
  • excessive worrying
  • difficulties in sleeping and concentrating
  • fear and panic
  • physical symptoms such as sweating, heart palpitations, breathlessness and pain.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder. Someone can develop PTSD if they experience a traumatic or frightening event, such as being a victim of a violent crime, being involved in military combat or witnessing a violent attack or death. PTSD causes feelings of intense fear, helplessness and horror. Someone can have panic attacks, nightmares and flashbacks (seeing images or visions of the past event in their mind).

There is the misconception that PTSD most commonly affects veterans. Around 1 in 25 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are likely to develop PTSD, similar to that in the general public. However, while the rate of occurrence is similar, the complexity of the disorder tends to be much greater. Furthermore, it often occurs alongside other medical problems such as pain, disability and substance misuse, particularly alcohol misuse (Combat Stress, 2015).

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