Are People with Mental Illness Violent?

For the second installment of “Questions People are Afraid to Ask the Mentally Ill” I am going to answer the question, “Are people with mental illness violent?”

I’ve briefly touched upon this topic in past posts, so please bear with me if some of this sounds familiar.  First, let me reiterate a common thread throughout this blog, people who are mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence rather than the violent perpetrator; they are also more likely to hurt themselves than others.  In fact, research continues to demonstrate that mental illness is low on the list of factors related to violence risk (Johnston, 2016).  According to the American Journal of Public Health, fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were committed by someone who was diagnosed with a mental illness.

In contrast, a 2006 national survey found that 60% of Americans thought people with schizophrenia were likely to be violent toward someone else, and 32% thought the same of people with major depressive disorder.  An individual’s genetic vulnerability or social environment (such as poverty, early exposure to violence, etc.) was found to play a much larger role in propensity for violence.

Key Sun Ph.D. made an interesting point about the false attribution of violence to Mental Illness.  He stated that, “The first false assumption assumed that mental illness makes the perpetrator less responsible for the crime, because mental illness is rooted in biological defect and is beyond the control of the person.  According to criminal law, however, the presence of a mental disorder does not sufficiently make the person less accountable for the offence.”  This highlights a logical fallacy in general public opinion.  It is believed that mental illness causes violence, but that mental illness is not an excuse for violence.

In summary, while the societal stigma against those with mental illness would have you believe those affected are more likely to be violent, research has shown this is simply not true.

Next week I will be taking a break from posting due to my upcoming move.  Be sure to check back on Wednesday, August 9 for the next installment of “Questions People are Afraid to Ask the Mentally Ill”.

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