Does mental disorder excuse behavior?


My oldest son hit his mother in front of me. He is supposedly bi-polar. My question is: does his bi-polar condition excuse this? And how would you handle the consequence.


It doesn’t excuse but it may explain. There is a difference. Depending on his age. . .a 2 year old will hit and not really understand the totality of his action–a 12 year old, even with a bipolar disorder, does understand. . .and on other factors–is he on medication? Has there been a medication change? Is he possibly physically ill? Has there been unusual stress in his life above and beyond this? Is this is an isolated incident? If not, have other incidents been handled consistently? etc. there could be many factors which could explain the why of the action. . .but the action is still not ‘excusable.’

Again, how to handle depends on lots of factors. Obviously, you don’t hit the child yourself. But again, if this has happened before you need continuity and certainly consistent discipline, and therapy, and to assure both the child’s and your and her safety and any other family member’s safety. If you haven’t already gotten yourselves into family therapy, and the child screened fully, and appropriate medical and psychiatric treatment, do so as soon as possible.

A resource you might want to check out is --the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. They have many classes (there is a ‘state organization’ for each U.S. state so don’t forget to check out your state’s ‘link’ to find chapters and meetings in your area) and those can be extremely helpful for you both to understand the disease process itself and to find local sources and groups to help you and your family.


Umm. We’re talking from a moral perspective. So why not look at the traditional criteria of sinfulness. Matter, knowledge, consent. Mental disorders don’t touch matter, but they touch knowledge probably, and definitely touch consent. In so far as the person is deprived of his will or his ignorance is justified, the culpability drops, so he can’t be as guilty as a person who fully knows what he’s doing and wants to do just that.

The question is to what extent mental disorders bind will or obscur knowledge.


I must agree w/ Tantum ergo . . . it’s not an excuse for bad behavior, but it does give the behavior context. Oftentimes, children with mental disorders exhibit behaviors that are “normal” to younger children. For example, my 2 year old son hits me in frustration or anger. That’s developmentally normal for him. I don’t accept that behavior and am teaching him not to, but I don’t get overly upset about it because it’s appropriate for a child his age. But a child with a metal disorder may continue exhibiting this kind of behavior for several years past when it is normal, and it will be more difficult to teach the child appropriate ways to manage their feelings.

What to do in your specific situation depends a great deal on how old the child is, what kind of treatment he is getting, etc.



The fact that he is bipolar does not excuse nor explain his behavior. Being bipolar means that you have a mood disorder. You swing between two extremes: being full of energy, life is good, I can do anything type of feelings, to being extreme depressed, can’t get out of bed, life isn’t worth living feelings.

My mother is bipolar and has been all of my life. She was never violent though, that is not part of the disorder. Even in her most depressed moods harming other was simply not a part of the disorder. Wanting to harm herself, yes, but not others. If he was violent that is something else going on and cannot be blamed on his mental disorder. I would suggest confession, counseling, and medication. I don’t know what he is or is not taking, but medication will help him to better control his mood swings and to keep his moods from swinging.



May I disagree with you here? Many of my clients have Bipolar Disorder, and violent behavior can be a symptom of the manic phase of the disease. Just because one person does not show violent behavior doesn’t mean that it can’t be part of the illness.



I was just about the same thing but you beat me to it. Just because two people have the same mental disorder doesn’t mean they have to exhibit the same behavior. Children especially may behave very differently from adults with the same problems.

The input of professionals is very valuable, but the final analysis of whether your child’s behavior in this case was due to his mental disorder or not, may have to be your call. You know him better than anyone else and all things being equal, you probably understand him best too. If you think that he is capable of better self control, then he probably is.

Take all advice with a pinch of salt (including mine) since only you understand your specific situation.


I think it best that you consult with a professional who is familiar with your son and family.

Soliciting or offering advice when it pertains to an individual with a complex medical disorder is beyond the scope of this forum. There is a clear-cut risk involved in accepting, relying, or acting on the expressed opinions of those who either lack relevant professional qualifications and credentials, or whose claims to such cannot be validated. Similarly, the experience or response of others in what appears to be a similar or identical set of circumstances is not an accurate measure of its applicability to someone else’s situation.

Thank you for understanding. This thread is now closed.

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