Sometimes, psychiatrists and psychologists are asked to assess
someone who has been charged with stealing from shops. There are different
opinions about the possible pathology of shoplifters.
Some clinical studies have overemphasized one particular
scenario: a middle aged lady, without previous convictions or criminal
offence history, who is charged with taking from a shop something that
she could easily have paid for and, in any case, something she has no
need or use for.
On psychiatric examination she recites a tale of domestic woe in which
episode her attention lapsed. She may be depressed, although whether
this preceded or followed arrest is often difficult to establish exactly.
Inattentiveness or forgetfulness of depressive origin undoubtedly occurs,
but should not be overestimated as a cause of theft. Since, in our
culture, theft from shops and supermarkets constitutes a massive problem
for retail industry. And the great majority of perpetrators are young,
mentally well, and don't get caught.
As a matter of fact, the proportion of shoplifters with psychiatric
disorders is probably no more than five percent.