Recent events of interpersonal and mass violence in the US have renewed what is often characterized as a cause-and-effect relationship between mental illness and violence. In general, this may happen for a variety of reasons:
¨ In the wake of tragedies, it becomes important to rationalize the behavior so that we as a society can understand the behavior.
¨ There is a tendency among decision-makers, policy-setters, and the public to reduce societal problems to a single cause.
¨ Perceived reasons for societal problems vie for focused effort, legislation, or funds in the political and policy arenas, and ease of understanding contributes to which specific cause gets the bulk of these resources.
But is there a more complete story to be told regarding mental illness’ relationship to violence? Studies based on the Epidemiologic Catchment Area surveys and population-attributable risk data indicate a strong link between mental illness and violence for a least a small percentage of violent behavior, with mediators that include substance abuse/dependence, age, gender, and socioeconomic/life stress factors. There is a current of thought that is applying data to the issue of violence and noting that, based on the numbers, individuals with mental illness are less dangerous to the public and/or more dangerous to themselves, and so should not be as large of a focus in the current discussion on curbing violence.
Another less considered aspect of the issue of mental health and violence is victimization. It is estimated that those diagnosed with severe mental illnesses are at as much as 11% higher risk of being victims of violence than the general population. Addressing the issue of victimization among those with mental illness is less of a focus than the perpetration of violence according to the article linked above. There is also a large discrepancy between actual rates of victimization (25% more likely to be victimized) and the perception of victimization (9-13%) annually.
In this week’s US debate on Wednesay February 6th at 8pmEST/5PST, we want to examine the following:
Is the correlation between mental illness and perpetration of violence a valid point of consideration for the public and policy-makers? Is this correlation simply the product of stigma against people with mental illness?
What is the impact of the overall perception regarding mental illness and violence and how does this impact people with mental illness that are victims of violence?
What should be prioritized by public policy-makers relating to violence perpetrated by people with mental illnesses? Related to victimization of people with mental illnesses?
What should be prioritized by social workers in practice settings to reduce violence perpetrated by people with mental illnesses? What should be done to reduce victimization of people with mental illnesses?