Kleptomania and shoplifting : A psychosocial study

Abstract: Although kleptomania has been recognised since the 19th century very little isknown about it. One often reads assumptions that the kleptomaniac is a middle-agedfemale with good social status and that the condition is often seen during the menopause,pregnancy or depression. However, there has been very little research in this areaand there are extremely few studies based on well diagnosed kleptomaniacs. Earlierstudies have collected their data from certain case reports or small series of casesfrom amongst psychiatric patients, eating disorder groups or from patients referredby the courts psychiatric examination. This involves bias. The aim of our study has been to obtain more information about well diagnosedkleptomaniacs which will then hopefully also contribute to the development of treatmentmethods. There are currently no accepted treatment methods. Our hypothesis has alsobeen that there exists an intermediate zone between "pure" kleptomaniacsand those who steal for personal profit. These individuals also suffer from theirbehaviour and need help to be able to abstain from stealing although they do notfulfil all the diagnostic criteria required to be classified as kleptomaniacs accordingto the DSM system. We have therefore taken a look at shoplifters. Many of the kleptomaniacsand these intermediate shoplifters are very distressed by their behaviour which oftenhas serious social and also mental health consequences. It is ethically importantto be able to offer these individuals help in getting rid of their destructive behaviour.Clinical encounters with these kleptomaniac patients have evoked the feeling thatthey constitute a heterogeneous group with certain subgroups which we have wantedto examine more closely, also via earlier literature. We have also wanted to takea closer look at whether a typical kleptomaniac resembles the description given above. In order to avoid the type of bias mentioned above we have collected our datain three different ways: 1) We advertised in daily newspapers for people who "stealwithout actually wanting to". This resulted in contact with 37 DSM-III-R diagnosedkleptomaniacs; 2) We interviewed 50 shoplifters directly after they had been apprehendedin central Stockholm; 3) We had access to the police register over all those caughtshoplifling in the Greater Stockholm area during 1993. This study supported the view that the typical kleptomaniac is a middle-aged femalewith a traumatic childhood but of varying financial status. Depressions were commonaccording the patients' own descriptions. Earlier literature as well as our studyseemed to give support to the view that kleptomaniacs are a heterogeneous group andthat there exists a clinically important intermediate zone which must be considered.We must remember, however, that despite this study being, as far as we know, thelargest one conducted on well diagnosed kleptomaniacs the group is still relativelysmall and also certainly suffers from selection bias. Any conclusions must thereforebe drawn with great caution. Key words: kleptomania; shoplifting; personality traits; depression; theft behaviour.

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