Does Mental Illness Cause Violence? 12 Points to Consider

Mental illness does not cause violence.

Mental illness is neither a source nor a cause for aggression, violence, murder and mayhem. The news and entertainment media pairs this “cause-and-effect” rationale to spice up and extend news coverage duration in the case of a mass murder. The media demand immediate answers for each event’s details in the pursuit of increased revenues.

  • The American public frequently and vicariously ‘experience’ violence at the hands of the mentally ill in fictional and real-life dramas in movies and newscasts. The global viewing public receives a steady diet of real-life violence linked to mental illness. The public are conditioned to fear violence that is random, senseless, and unpredictable as being due to mental illness. However, people understand and accept crimes with a clear motive, like robbery. Without a clear motive, a suspect must be mentally ill, right?1
  • A German survey series demonstrated public social distance from the mentally ill increases with each publicized crime, never returning to its original value. Furthermore, there were perceptions of the mentally ill as dangerous and unpredictable.2
  • When a killer is shown to be mentally ill, why is it assumed that his illness causes the crime? U.S. Government officials hurry to address the problem, yet fall victim to the same falsehoods as do the people they represent. Media mischaracterizations of the mentally ill go back at least six decades. How can government pass constructive legislation during this season of national turmoil and ignorance?
  • The headline “Psychotic killer slays 8 people in their beds” is scary. Why? According to The New Oxford Dictionary, “psychosis” is “a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.” Does being out of touch with reality cause someone to become violent? No. Obviously, a suspect’s underlying life issues including substance abuse, medications’ side-effects, bullying, abuse, rage and hatred should be investigated instead. These issues often co-exist with mental conditions. Sadly, the most fantastic and lurid of violent cases are “cherry-picked” for public consumption.
  • Substance abuse is the leading indicator for violence. The side-effects of dozens of prescription drugs are just as deadly, and those of psychiatric drugs in particular. For example, a handful of the most popular antidepressant medications carry the side effects of depression and suicide! Psychiatric drugs from the following classes can have debilitating or deadly side-effects: Antidepressants, tranquilizers, antipsychotics and anticonvulsants. Prescription medicines affect both body and brain chemistries.3 Patients who find their moods shifting after taking their medicines must immediately contact their physicians.
  • “Between 2004 and 2011 the FDA’s (Food and Drug Administration) Adverse Events Reporting System for drug side effects logged 12,755 reports of psychiatric medications relating to violence. Among them were 359 homicides, 7,250 incidences of aggression, and 2,795 episodes of mania. There were also 9,310 suicides. Actually the damage is far greater. According to the FDA, fewer than 10 percent of adverse reactions are reported.”5 Yet the fact remains: Mental illness does not cause violence.
  • Are the media qualified to run headlines branding murder suspects “psychotic killers?” No. Can a murder suspect have psychosis? Yes. Can psychosis cause violence or mur­der? No. Can a murder suspect have diabetes? Yes. Can diabetes cause violence or murder? No. Media conclusions are based upon false logic. The answers to these lines of questioning are equally valid. Recently, reporters made the non-threatening condition of Asperger’s Syndrome sound like the cause of a murderous rage within a shooter’s brain. That representation was false.
  • Carefully-chosen “pop” psychologists and psychiatrists – some with their own TV shows – are pitched softball questions by interviewers to buttress sloppy reporting. These “experts” are typically “snake-oil” peddlers: greedy celebrity mental health practitioners who rarely work with patients in clinical settings. They are hired guns who appear in courtrooms to impress juries for the at­torneys who retain them. These doctors resort to street language instead of accurate clinical terms – using ambiguous words like “crazy” – mirror­ing those of the reporter or anchor in order to deferentially make the interviewer seem knowledgeable. The fact is, psychiatry has come a long way “… since 1970, when clinicians were dramatically found to be consis­tently wrong more often than right in predicting violent behavior.”4 Today the verdict is in: Mental illness does not cause violence.
  • Ninety percent of suicides result from the mental disorder of clinical depression and represent an individual’s anger turned inward only, as correctly defined by Dr. Sigmund Freud. The victim is destructive only to himself-not others. A mass murderer suspect who commits suicide is not always depressed. However, the two may co-exist. He usually takes his own life to avoid the certain legal fate that would accompany his terrible deed. He may happen to suffer from one or more mental disorders, but they themselves do not cause the heinous act. It is a happenstance finding uncovered during an investigation.
  • Socioeconomic factors most assuredly come into play when discussing violent tendencies in individuals. Bullying, discrimination, poverty, violent entertainment, favoritism, copycat behavior, repressed hate and anger and all manner of physical, mental and emotional abuse can seethe in an individual until the litany of pain must emerge in one form or another – often as violence. That such an individual may manifest a mental disorder cannot take away the underlying pain, suffering and predictable acting out of one who suffers such issues. Societal stigmatization of the mentally ill is a cruel, misdirected activity.

Why do I believe mental illness does not cause violence?

  • Violence seen in the mentally ill is due to external factors, real or perceived threats, situations or related physical health factors. One respected mental health professional states “… patients discharged from psychiatric facilities who did not abuse alcohol and ille­gal drugs had a rate of violence no different than that of their neighbors in the community. Signifi­cantly, this contradicts one of central perceptions of mental illness within society today. Unless drugs or alcohol are involved, people with mental disorders do not pose any more threat to the community than anyone else. This finding cannot be emphasized enough.”6 Mental illness does not provoke or cause violence.
  • The “Psychiatrist’s Bible,” DSM-IV, (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), indi­cates no link between mental illness and violence within its pages. A look through its detailed index fails to turn up the words “aggression,” “violence,” “murder,” or “homicide.” Neither are these terms found in the handbook’s “Diagnostic Index.” Nor are any of these terms listed as symptoms for any of the mental disorders found within the text. Violence is not a symptom of mental illness or a result of mental illness.
  • The media’s deceptive pairing of words like “psychotic” and “killer” are either misleading or untrue in the absence of mental health professionals’ determinations following full examination of suspects.
  • One-in-four Americans now manifests some degree of mental illness during any year, as told by actress Glen Close, founder and chairperson for BringChange2Mind, an organization devoted to ending stigma targeting the mentally ill. If only 10 percent of Americans were seriously mentally ill, then wouldn’t resultant violent crime be rampant? Where are these one-in-four “violent” mentally ill Americans? Where are all of their violent crimes? What about the nearly six million known cases of manic-depression (bipolar disorder) across America, 83% of which are classified as severe? Why aren’t these tortured souls grabbing the daily headlines? Do the math. A single newspaper could not contain the stories of havoc they would wreak upon society if the accusations made against them were true. Mental illness does not cause violence.
  • Mental disorders are biological in origin, as are cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The only difference is that symptoms are external behaviors rather than the internal evidence provided by laboratory test results, surgery and imaging. Do any other biologically-caused illnesses cause violence? No. A mentally ill person’s behaviors are odd and quirky but they fall short of violent or dangerous behavior. Mental illness is not a character flaw, moral weakness, or a result of sinful living, weak-mindedness or self-pity. Mental illness does not cause violence.
  • It is shameful that in such an “enlightened” society, with all of its unprecedented amount of information available 24/7 from multitudes of verifiable sources, that this basic issue is still debated. If a mentally ill person is violent, he or she is responding to external threats and situations that create anger and violence as would anyone else. Could pure evil residing in a person’s heart cause violence and murder, whether mentally ill or not? This belief is rare in any society blinded by moral relativism and situational ethics. Mental illness does not cause violence.
  • Twice as many women as men suffer clinical depression. Men and women suffer other mental disorders in equal numbers. Therefore, there are more mentally ill women than men. Why are mass murderers and serial killers mostly young males? Where are all of the mentally ill females committing heinous violence and murders? Mental illness does not cause violence.
  • My first-hand experience with co-patients demonstrates that, just as there are happy and mean drunks, there are also happy and mean mood disorder patients. However, meanness does not always translate into physical violence. These behaviors stem from individual personality and character traits in both cases. Mental illness does not cause violence.
  • Empirically-speaking and having resided within several mental health facilities, I found all of them as serene as public libraries. My co-patients were not drugged to make them more manageable. The peaceful environment was maintained to achieve the needed healing and progress in patient cognition and emotions. Despite various crises suffered by co-patients within a facility, the only violent behaviors are caused by illegal substance withdrawals or severe reactions to medications’ side-effects. No armed officers or employees work on these units. Psych techs and aides are there to intervene in the event an argument occurs, as would happen among any other group of confined strangers. The media have created a false image of both standard mental hospital and general hospital behavioral unit atmospheres as being disruptive, mean-spirited and violent.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) reports more than 25% of Americans suffer some form of mental illness during any given year. Medco Health Services states 20% of Americans take psychiatric drugs – a 22% rise since 2001. The number of Americans receiving federal disability payments for mental health issues doubled between 1987 and 2007.
  • In light of these facts, why has the U.S. murder rate decreased by nearly 50% between 1991 and 2009? Why are the U.S. violent crime levels of assault, robbery, rape and murder at their lowest levels since 1963? One can only conclude that, unlike the false mental illness-to-violence media rant, there is a clear disconnect between the opposing trends in mental health and violence. May truth prevail:

Mental illness is not to blame for violence; it is not a predictor of violence; it simply does not cause violence.

1 Heather Stuart. “Violence and mental illness: an overview.” World Psychiatry (Journal). June 2003

2 Angermeyer and Matschinger. Germany.

3 Sari Harrar. “Medicines that affect your mood.” Humana Active Outlook, March 2013, p.10.

4 Monahan & Steadman. 1994.

5 Julian Whitaker, M.D. School Shootings: Evil or Drug-Induced Behavior? Health & Healing. February 2013. Vol. 23, No. 2. pp. 1-5

6 John M. Grohol, Psy. D. Psych Central, Dispelling the Myth of Violence and Mental Illness. 2004.

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