They star in almost every CSI episode, but psychopaths – thank heavens – aren’t common in real life, much less our discussion of them. But a new report into mental health facilities in America has shed light on the disturbing reality faced by parents with children diagnosed as psychopaths – and the new approach that may offer them hope.
Produced by The Atlantic, the report spotlights several cases of children diagnosed with the condition. Take 11-year-old Samantha, who drew murder weapons in a book from age six and practiced suffocating her stuffed animals before strangling both her two-year-old sister and four months later, her two-month-old baby brother.
The eventual diagnosis? Samantha was a psychopath.
“In the children’s mental health-world, it’s pretty much a terminal diagnosis, except your child’s not going to die,” her mother told The Atlantic. “It’s just that there’s no help.”
Psychiatrists diagnose the condition in children who show “callous and unemotional traits” and believe that approximately one per cent of children demonstrate them. Over 50 studies show that children with these traits are up to three times more likely to commit crimes or display psychopathic traits as adults.
As more research is done, experts are becoming increasingly adept at identifying psychopathic traits in children as young as five weeks’ old. A King’s College London study tested over 200 babies of that age by tracking whether they preferred looking at a person’s face or a red ball. Two and a half years later, those who preferred the ball were displaying callous traits.
But there is some level of hope. The report spotlights US facility Mendota, which started in 1995 as an alternative to juvenile prison. It’s run by psychologists instead of guards and has one staff member per three kids – apparently four times the ratio of juvenile correction institutions.
Several success stories have emerged from Mendota since it began, which you can read more of here.