Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mental Illness And Violence

The TV and movie emphasis, and therefore the conventional wisdom, is that people with a mental illness are more likely to commit violent crimes.

The actual answer is that there is only indirect causation.  Some illnesses lead to a slight increase in violence (mania, autism) - almost entirely reactive rather than planned violence - and some result in much lower rates of violent crime.  There are two additional ways in which illness affects the rate of violence.  Increased substance abuse leads to increased crime; there are higher rates of substance abuse associated with mental illness.  So if the illness is leading to more SA, then there will be higher crime. Next, lack of income means that mentally ill people live in worse, more violent neighborhoods.  We tend to revert to level of acceptable violence around us anyway, and being surrounded by violent and intimidating people gives more opportunity for violent response.

But if one factors out the substance abuse and the neighborhood, those with psychiatric illnesses actually have a lower rate of violent crime than the general population.  That doesn't make for good movies with frightening psychopaths or mad scientists, but it is true nonetheless.

I'll have more to say on this.

6 comments:

Retriever said...

And then there is the whole issue of the mentally ill as victims (not perpetrators) of violence. The autistic or depressed child beaten by an exasperate/burned out/befuddled parent who can't understand why they can't act normal. The mentally ill or developmentally disabled child or teenager beaten up, assaulted, mugged, bullied, tormented, etc.

Or how when someone is manic, psychotic or suicidally depressed, they aren't necessarily street smart so they get into dangerous situations where others may harm them.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

doesn't make for good movies with frightening psychopaths or mad scientists... I hope you're not sterotyping mad scientists, AVI. We're a very diverse bunch.

Sam L. said...

Easy-going people don't seem to fit in to today's movies.

james said...

They'd have probably botched Bombadil anyway, Sam.

jaed said...

The prospect of mental illness is deeply frightening to most people, too. It's scary, dangerous, irrational, and there's no sure way to prevent it.

What else is dangerous, irrational, and may come upon you out of the blue? Violent attacks, that's what. So the association isn't surprising.

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