KLEPTOMANIA


Kleptomania is compulsive stealing. Where a person steals persistently over a period of time when there is no apparent reason to do so, then the person can be deemed a kleptomaniac. Where, for example, an article can be lawfully rented, hired or borrowed but a person chooses instead to steal the article, even though the person has no permanent use for it, then that can be a sign of kleptomania. It is a mental disorder. Where the stealing starts from a young age and persists into adulthood, particularly in relation to a specific type of article, and then the person justifies it, one can be certain that one is dealing with a confirmed, determined and unrepentant kleptomaniac. Whenever that person is around, then steps should be taken to protect goods with which the kleptomaniac has an affinity.

Such a person is in need of professional help because even if exposed, the person will not stop. In fact, the person cannot stop. When the opportunity presents itself and the person is in the presence of the object of his/her fantasy or fetish, whatever the case, and the person thinks that no one is looking, he/she will swipe the article, especially if it is small enough to be secreted on the person’s body.

Wikipedia says that kleptomania is distinguished from shoplifting or ordinary theft because shoplifters and thieves generally steal for monetary value while kleptomaniacs act by compulsion. I confess that I am wholly unqualified to speak or write on this subject with any professional authority; but I am not certain about that conclusion. The fact is that kleptomania is not confined to persons who are unable to rationalize. Many are educated people. Wynona Ryder, the film actress, was a kleptomaniac. They know what they are doing and know that they are doing wrong. But they cannot control the impulse to steal. What if the kleptomaniac understands his/her compulsion and then seeks to profit from it? The compulsion takes hold of him/her, he/she gives in to it and then sells the object of the theft to make some money on the side. In other words, the kleptomaniac can channel his/her compulsion into a profitable undertaking. I think that this is quite feasible and could happen.

According to Wikipedia again, Kleptomania is associated with a borderline personality disorder (BPH). This is a very complex disorder and while much has been learnt over the years, its full scope and magnitude have not yet been fully explored.

 It is known, however, that persons with BPH are sensitive and react strongly to perceived criticism. Their attitude to persons can shift from positive to negative. For example, they may support a particular political party or leader at one time, or be highly critical of another, and then change sides. They can be abusive. 

If untreated both BPH and one of its by-products, kleptomania, will persist. The kleptomaniac needs to first recognize that he/she has a problem and is desirous of resolving it. The recognition that kleptomania results from a mental condition is likely to alleviate feelings of shame or guilt to a sufficient degree where it becomes possible for the person to seek help. A problem arises, of course, where the kleptomaniac, unable to conceal his/her activity, publicly defends it. Such a person cannot be saved and will suffer continuous torment throughout his/her life. Such torments may be manifested in compulsively lying and abusive conduct to others. This is one sign of the underlying basis of kleptomania which is BPH.

Unfortunately there are not many health professionals in Guyana but Dr. Bhairo Harry is a very experienced and long serving psychiatrist who either has the skills to treat such a disorder or can direct the kleptomaniac where to go, say to a psychologist, if available in Guyana, for the necessary treatment. The condition of kleptomania, as far as I know, may require medication, and will certainly require psycho-therapy, but would not require hospitalization. So the patient can continue his/her work without interruption. And, being a professional person myself under an obligation to maintain confidentiality over clients’ business, I know that doctors also strictly apply this rule to their treatment of patients. The kleptomaniac ought therefore to have no fear that his/her condition will be revealed, unless it has been revealed or he/she has confessed to it. I appreciate that unintended revelation might have a devastating impact on the kleptomaniac but no such fear should exist in relation to a professional. Where the kleptomaniac proudly parades his/her condition, then there would be no need for this reassurance.

Last week I wrote an article on the plight of the mentally ill. I explained the inadequate tools of both the police and the magistracy to deal with the mentally ill. Where a kleptomaniac appears before a magistrate, it is highly unlikely that the police or the magistrate will recognize a mental disorder. The person, if guilty, will be fined or imprisoned and then continue with the same activity, committing criminal acts because he/she cannot help himself/herself.

I hope that this article demonstrates that the public and the various authorities understand the urgency to be able to recognize, not only obvious mental illnesses, but the insidious ones as well, such as kleptomania, and ensure that such people get treatment rather than live in torment all their lives.

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