Shifty Eyes and Quick Hands: Kleptomania
Not all thieves are Jean Valjean. Nor are all thieves the type that wear business suits and spout promises every election year. Just as not all thieves are the same, not every thief steals for the same reasons. Some do it out of necessity, such as the Jean Valjean who merely wanted a piece of bread to satisfy his hunger. Others do it for monetary gain, whether for themselves or for others. Others steal as an act of rebellion or defiance, challenging authority by violating the concept of ownership, a fundamental component of the law. For some, the problem relates to a mental health disorder and they literally can’t stop themselves from doing so. When mental health is inextricably linked to someone’s stealing, most people would probably not be mistaken in labeling that person as having kleptomania.
Taking the meaning from the translation of the Greek term, kleptomania, is a form of psychosis that causes a person to impulsively steal things. The items targeted are always tangible and are rarely too large for the patient to effectively hide under normal circumstances. There is no concrete data on whether hard monetary value plays any part in the impulse of the person. Most statistics reflect that the items being stolen rarely ever have a pattern to them, though some consistencies have been known to occur. Most experts have come to an agreement that a majority of kleptomaniacs steal “for the sake of stealing,” and only in rare circumstances will monetary value or personal inclinations determine what, exactly, is being stolen.
In general, kleptomaniacs are simply unable to control the impulse to steal objects and active attempts to prevent those impulses often results in overwhelming stress and anxiety. Of course, attempting to prevent it is only possible if the kleptomaniac is actually aware of the theft. In a number of cases, the patient will have no idea that he has stolen an item until after the fact. Legally, kleptomania is not considered a viable defense. This is primarily because kleptomaniacs can be aware that a theft is taking place. Also, there is very little evidence-gathering methods available that can prove whether a person was aware during a theft or not. However, some territories will accept it as a legal defense, provided that the patient has an established history of lack of awareness.
Kleptomania is often seen to be closely associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), though this is not always the case. Most only relate the kleptomania to OCD when the stolen items are being hoarded or kept, which generally connotes that the items were stolen for their actual or potential value, rather than for the sake of being stolen. Some kleptomaniacs exhibit signs and symptoms that point to OCD behavior, but it is often left up to the judgment of the person administering the therapy to determine whether this is a part of the kleptomania or a sign of OCD being in the background. Statistically speaking, a vast majority of cases of kleptomania are actually independent of OCD, with the common percentages of the two disorders coinciding being 2.2 to 5.9 percent.
For treatment, kleptomaniacs are often subjected to the same methods as pyromaniacs, though geared to better suit the nature of the problem. This means that the most common approach used is cognitive behavior modification, though other methods may also be used. Serotonin-uptake inhibitors can be used as a stand-alone answer, or in conjunction with other techniques. Mood stabilizers have also been used as a means of chemically counteracting the impulses, though results have shown a degree of variance.