Ensure kleptomaniacs get the help they need

Police statistics revealed a slight drop in the number of reported shop-theft cases last year, compared to the year before (Supermarkets clamp down on shoplifters; April 8).

However, there were no statistics on how many cases involved kleptomaniacs.

Some 0.6 per cent of people in the world are kleptomaniacs.

While most shoplifters commit thefts for personal gain or vengeance, or out of anger, kleptomaniacs do not.

They steal because they have an irresistable urge when in the vicinity of an item, regardless of the material cost of the item. Taking the item is the only way to relieve that urge.

It is in the interest of the public to ensure kleptomaniacs get proper help, as it is a serious mental health disorder that can cause much emotional pain to them and their loved ones.

Society must work with the supermarkets, retailers and security personnel to identify sufferers and refer them for treatment and rehabilitation.

Security officers should be trained to look out for signs of kleptomania, such as an increasing tension in the person before committing the theft and signs of relief after the act.

They must bear in mind that this is a sign of a mental-health condition, not a character flaw, and should approach the person with tact.

If we simply jail kleptomaniacs for repeated thefts, and leave their condition undiagnosed, complications could set in, which could lead to conditions that include compulsive gambling or shopping, arrest for shoplifting, imprisonment, alcohol and substance abuse, depression and anxiety.

Francis Cheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2017, with the headline 'Ensure kleptomaniacs get the help they need'. Print Edition | Subscribe