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You're three times more likely to be killed by lightning than be murdered by someone with schizophrenia

The evidence being gathered and reported about Jared L. Loughner, the alleged gunman in Saturday’s tragic event in Tucson, Ariz., strongly suggests that the man has a severe mental illness.

Sadly, that fact will just compound the tragedy, for it reinforces the public’s mistaken belief that violence is a common symptom of mental illness — a belief that only deepens the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness, making it more difficult for people with such illnesses to find the care they need.

British neuropsychologist (and MindHacks blogger) Vaughan Bell wrote about this topic in an article in Slate on Sunday:

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.
Seena Fazel is an Oxford University psychiatrist who has led the most extensive scientific studies to date of the links between violence and two of the most serious psychiatric diagnoses — schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, either of which can lead to delusions, hallucinations, or some other loss of contact with reality. Rather than looking at individual cases, or even single studies, Fazel's team analyzed all the scientific findings they could find. As a result, they can say with confidence that psychiatric diagnoses tell us next to nothing about someone's propensity or motive for violence.
A 2009 analysis of nearly 20,000 individuals concluded that increased risk of violence was associated with drug and alcohol problems, regardless of whether the person had schizophrenia. Two similar analyses on bipolar patients showed, along similar lines, that the risk of violent crime is fractionally increased by the illness, while it goes up substantially among those who are dependent on intoxicating substances. In other words, it's likely that some of the people in your local bar are at greater risk of committing murder than your average person with mental illness. ...
Your chance of being murdered by a stranger with schizophrenia is so vanishingly small that a recent study of four Western countries put the figure at one in 14.3 million. To put it in perspective, statistics show you are about three times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike.

The effects of stigma and discrimination on people with mental illnesses are profound. A 2003 governmental report, “The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health,” found that, “[s]tigma leads others to avoid living, socializing, or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders — especially severe disorders, such as schizophrenia. It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment, which only deepens the stigma and discrimination."

You can read Bell's full article here.

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Comments (2)

In most cases true but the definition of "mental illness" is fluid and open to interpretation. Are habitually violent criminals "psychopathic"? At least here in Minnesota the "McNaughten rule" on mental illness and criminal competency is defined very tightly.

Also, violent people with mental illness end up in the criminal justice system, an example being the late pinup Betty Paige and her "knife-play".

What about the young people who go "postal" who had a history of psychotropic meds? An example being the recent Iowa convenience store killer? Did Jared L. Loughner use "happy pills" in the past?

Clark v. Arizona, 548 U.S. 735 (2006), was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, in which the Court upheld the constitutionality of the insanity defense used by the State of Arizona. The ruling affirmed the murder conviction of a man with paranoid schizophrenia, for the killing of a police officer. The man had argued that his inability to understand the nature of his acts at the time they were committed should be a sufficient basis for showing he lacked the requisite mental state required as an element of the charged crime. The Court upheld Arizona's restriction of admissible mental health evidence only to the issue of insanity. Arizona does not allow mental health evidence to show that the defendant did not possess the required mental intent level necessary to satisfy an element of the crime. The evidence is only admissible if used to show that the defendant was insane at the time of the crime's commission. In this case, the defendant knew right from wrong so he could not qualify under Arizona's insanity defense.