Mental Illness and Violence: Is There a Connection?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • This week there has been a lot of discussion on mental illness and violence. Unfortunately, because most people don't understand mental illness, there are a lot of misconceptions about this topic. Even though anxiety disorders are rarely included in these conversations, saying "mental illness" can lead to generalities and mistrust of you, our readers struggling to manage their anxiety in every day life. These misconceptions can make your life more difficult. For example, talking to your boss, co-workers or friends about your anxiety disorder is difficult. It can be even more difficult if those you are talking to lump everyone with a mental illness in the category of "violent."

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    Everyone with mental illness is not violent. Not even close. Schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorders are the conditions most associated with violent behavior, but study after study indicate that the vast majority of patients with these illnesses are not violent. One study, completed by the National Institute of Mental Health, showed an increase in violence in patients with schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder when compared to the general public (16% as compared to 7% of the general public). However, 84% of those with these conditions had no history of violence. Of those that were violent, a dual diagnosis that included substance abuse was shown to increase the risk, therefore, the study results might be significantly less for those with mental illness without substance abuse.


    The incident which started this discussion (this week) shows not that those with mental illness are violent but emphasizes how important treatment is. Arizona has less stringent rules regarding forced hospitalization for mental health patients than many other states. Most states require an imminent danger to self or others to hospitalize someone against his wishes. In Arizona the law allows for forced treatment if someone will benefit from treatment. Jared Loughner, however, has not been diagnosed with a mental illness and had not been treated. From what we have read, he was delusional and possibly paranoid. However, the cause of the shooting, in my opinion, is not that he had a mental illness, but that he had received no treatment. According to Dr. Richard, Friedman, in the article "Violence and Mental Illness-How Strong it the Link?" states, "A study that compared the prevalence of violence in a group of psychiatric patients during the year after hospital discharge with the rate in the community in which the patients lived showed no difference in the risk of violence between treated patients and people without a psychiatric disorder. Thus, symptoms of psychiatric illness, rather than the diagnosis itself, appear to confer the risk of violent behavior."


    What should people do when someone is so obviously suffering from delusions or paranoia? Would better understanding lead to less fear? How? Why? What would you do?


    What are your opinions? What do you think? Please share your thoughts.


Published On: January 12, 2011