Dr Sohom Das is a forensic psychiatrist whose job involves assessing offenders who are believed to be suffering from mental illnesses like paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
By Chris Summers 13 March 2021
In an exclusive interview with Totalcrime, when asked who were the scariest individuals he had met, Dr Sohom Das said: “Paradoxically the ones I felt the most unsettling are not the ones that are the most agitated when I see them in front of me. It is actually quite the opposite. It’s when they are quite calm and docile but what they have done is horrific.”
Dr Das (pictured, right) said: “I assessed a woman within the last six months or so who was completely psychotic and she killed her own baby. She was suffering from these delusions related to the Devil and God.”
He said some of the most agitated patients in psychiatric hospitals had actually committed fairly minor offences, while some of the unassuming and unthreatening ones had carried out horrific crimes.
“Another case, at the beginning of my career, involved a teenage girl who had no history of violence or drug use. She was a good, motivated student and she was babysitting her nephew as she had done many times when she had this sudden psychosis and she suffered these strange delusions about killing her nephew to rid him of demons and reincarnate him, so she smothered him and killed him,” Dr Das added.
Dr Das hosts a YouTube channel called A Psych For Sore Minds and last month he did an episode about Andrea Yates, a Texas nurse who drowned her five children one day in June 2001 while her husband, a NASA engineer, was at work.
Yates was suffering from psychosis, said cartoon characters on her television told her she was a bad mother, that she had been marked by Satan and believed the only way to save her children from Hell was to kill them.
Dr Das said he had always been fascinated by criminality and was a fan of gangsta rap and movies like Goodfellas and Scarface growing up, but almost stumbled into forensic psychiatry after getting a medical degree.
“I found forensic psychiatrists more welcoming and friendly than others in the medical profession and I was also surprised to find that I had an affinity with the mentally ill,” he explained.
Dr Das says people at dinner parties and social events are always fascinated by his job.
But he said there were a lot of misconceptions about mental health and criminal offending, much of which he blamed on Hollywood and other media representations.
Dr Das said people sometimes wrongly assumed forensic psychiatrists were involved in criminal profiling.
He says this is not only not true but he thinks it is “a pseudo-science” and a “tainted science” and he points out several investigations had been led astray by it.
In the original Rachell Nickell murder inquiry the police erroneously concentrated on Colin Stagg as a suspect after being advised by Paul Britton, a forensic psychologist.
When Totalcrime’s Chris Summers interviewed Paul Britton in 1997 he blamed the police and insisted he had not overseen their strategy with Stagg.
Dr Das said people often confused psychotics and psychopaths.
“It’s confusing because they sound very similar but they are actually very different,” says Dr Das, “Psychopathic means you don’t have any kind of mental illness, so you’re not out of touch with reality, you’re not believing things that are not true or seeing or hearing things which don’t exist, but you have absolutely no moral regard for other people and you get pleasure from causing pain.”
He said psychopaths, like Anthony Hopkins’ character, Hannibal Lecter, were more likely to be docile, rather than agitated.
Dr Das said in the past the tabloid media would use “cringy headlines” to refer to mentally ill people as “psychos” and “schizos” but he said the reality was that people suffering from psychotic illnesses were more likely to be a danger to themselves than anybody else.
“A lot of people automatically think that serial killers are mad, the reason they think is because they think that having murderous thoughts and having the disinhibition to actually go through with it, people assume that is being mentally ill,” he says, “But that is not mental illness. To be mentally ill you have to be out of touch with reality…so the vast majority of serial killers are not mentally ill.”
But he says there are exceptions, such as the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, who died in November after spending almost 40 years in Broadmoor psychiatric hospital.
Sutcliffe claimed to have heard “the voice of God” telling him to murder sex workers in the 1970s but at his trial he was ruled to be sane and was jailed for life for the Ripper murders, only later to be transferred to Broadmoor.
Dr Das said he believed the decision to send Sutcliffe to jail rather than a psychiatric hospital was “political” because the general public did not want him to be given an “easy ride”.
He said: “Sutcliffe had numerous assessments and he came out and he came out with lots and lots of bizarre delusions, not related to his crimes, for example he reported he had met the Queen on a couple of occasions in a pub, and he thought the government was stretching certain years.”
Dr Das said when mentally ill offenders went into secure hospitals they were treated with anti-psychotic medications which brought their symptoms under control. Then they would undergo psychological therapy and occupational therapy to reverse or minimise the factors which led to them offending.
Only then would they be released, which would start with escorted leave within the hospital grounds and then short-term escorted leave in the community.
“It’s a slow process. It takes roughly three to four years, sometimes longer, sometimes even decades,” he explained.
Dr Das has carried out assessments for psychiatric patients to decide whether or not they can be released back into society and he explained the process.
“When you have a mentally ill patient it’s completely up to their psychiatrist on whether they can be released. There is no board, just one psychiatrist,” he says, “The exception to that is the most dangerous patients who are on Restriction Orders, under Section 41 of the Mental Health Act, whose release has to be approved by the Ministry of Justice,” he said.