We’re too quick to use “mental illness” as an explanation for violence.

January 9, 2011

Gabrielle Giffords

The press are often guilty for their stereotyping of mental illness following tragic events. We do not know yet what provoked this act. Its refreshing then to read Vaughan Bell’s piece in Slate following the Gifford shootings.

This presumed link between psychiatric disorders and violence has become so entrenched in the public consciousness that the entire weight of the medical evidence is unable to shift it. Severe mental illness, on its own, is not an explanation for violence, but don’t expect to hear that from the media in the coming weeks.

Of course, like the rest of the population, some people with mental illness do become violent, and some may be riskier when they’re experiencing delusions and hallucinations. But these infrequent cases do not make “schizophrenia” or “bipolar” a helpful general-purpose explanation for criminal behavior.

The fact that mental illness is so often used to explain violent acts despite the evidence to the contrary almost certainly flows from how such cases are handled in the media. Numerous studies show that crimes by people with psychiatric problems are over-reported, usually with gross inaccuracies that give a false impression of risk.

Link to read Vaughan excellent analysis in the aftermath of the Gifford shootings.

Source: Slate

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