Forensic Psychology

Mental Illness and the Law

What is the relationship between mental illness and competence?

The issue of mental competence comes up far more frequently than the problem of mental illness and culpability. When people are competent, they are intellectually and emotionally capable of acting in their own best interest. In a criminal setting, this may mean being competent to stand trial or to participate in one’s own defense. On a civil level, this may mean competent to manage one’s own finances, make medical decisions, or otherwise manage one’s own affairs. When someone is deemed incompetent to care for him or herself or to perform some specific task, a legal representative is charged with making decisions for the incompetent person and is legally responsible to act in the person’s best interest.


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