Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mental Illness & Violence

Last week I posted an article about the stigma of mental illness and a list of myths associated with the mentally ill. It appears someone took offence at the suggestion given in ONE of the listed myths that media helped fuel the myth that the mentally ill are dangerous. is a website that seems dedicated to proving that the mentally ill are more violent, more dangerous & more homicidal than society in general. They were even nice enough to send me a link on Twitter to a page on the site detailing studies on the links between mental illness & violent crime. Julian Hendy is a veteran documentary maker & investigative journalist who started investigating links between mental illness & violent crime after his father was killed by someone with a mental illness in 2007.

Hendy's site is built around his investigation that seems to show that in the UK, around 100 families a year will lose someone in a homicide committed by someone with a mental illness. He also produces scientific evidence that shows that the rate of mental illness among those convicted of homicide is higher than is found in the general public. I truly believe that Hendy has tried to be objective in his research & the presentation of the data, but has he succeeded? Is there other research into the subject that conflicts with his findings?

The answer is yes. Here a few other statistics to be considered:
(see the end of this article for links to more information)

  • Between 6% and 10% of the population aged 16 years & over will have a significant mental illness at any one time.

  • Out of 1,564 people convicted of homicide in England & Wales between April 1996 & April 1999, a total of 164 (around 10%) were found to show signs of mental illness at the time of the offence.
    (Department of Health 2001, Safety First,  Report of the National Confidential Inquiry (NCI) Into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness  – Annual report: England and Wales. Department of Health)
  • A later study of 5,189 homicides between January 1997 & December 2005 showed that the same percentage (510 or around 10%) were committed by people known to have had mental health problems at the time of the offence.
    (Large M, et al., 2008, ‘Homicide due to mental disorder in England in Wales over 50 years’,  British Journal of Psychiatry , vol. 193, pp. 130–133.)
  • 95% of homicides are committed by people who have not been diagnosed with a mental health problem.
    ( Kings College London, Institute of Psychiatry, 2006,  Risk of violence to other people)
  • 47% of violent crime victims believe their attacker was under the influence of alcohol and abut 17% believed they were under the influence of drugs.
    (Home Office, 2009, Crime in England and Wales 2008/09, Vol. 1, Findings from the British Crime Survey and police recorded crime, Statistical Bulletin, 11/09, vol. 1)
  • 30% of victims believed they were attacked BECAUSE the offender was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, compared to only 1% who attributed the attack to mental illness.
    (Coleman K, Hird C, Povey D. 2006, ‘Violent Crime Overview, Homicide and Gun Crime 2004/2005’,  Home Office Statistical Bulletin)
So what do these figures show us? Not much really, just that you are able to find statistics that can support either view. But I have to admit there is a lot more information available on studies showing the rate of mental illness varies little between those convicted of homicide & the general population. A simple web search will show that.

Personally I think anyone who commits homicide has to have some form of mental illness (it is far from what would be considered a 'normal' act) & adding substance abuse just makes things worse. Are we, the mentally ill, any more dangerous than anyone else? With proper treatment & support, no. The issue becomes undiagnosed/untreated mental illness & often substance abuse. Does this make the mentally ill any more dangerous. Possibly.

I do know that I was subject to violent mood swings & alcohol abuse before I was diagnosed. Could I have killed someone back then? Hmmmm, tough to answer but I do remember one incident from my late teens when I woke up one day and realised I could have killed my then girlfriend the night before if my anger hadn't been redirected at a wall - and that was almost 20 years before I was diagnosed. I actually spent a week in hospital after that, when I broke down at the thought - would have been nice if someone had talked to me about what was going on then. I live with the regrets those 20 years bring, it's cost me family & friends, the life I once dreamed of.

Now I'm treated, probably over medicated even, the world is different. So I can agree with Hendy on one point, one big point. We need to provide more services for those with mental illness, not continue cutting them. Making it easier for people to recognise mental illness within themselves & others then make it easier to get the help needed.

Sadly, despite changes in the mental health field & the amount of information & knowledge available, the media still seems to focus on the bad side of the problem - the violence and damage. This maintains the stigma, making it hard for those that need it to seek help. More needs to be made of the positives of correct treatment & open discussion of mental health issues. is a good idea, but because of the reason behind it's creation, it comes across as just another outlet focussing on the negative side of mental health issues, feeding the stigma surrounding those dealing with mental illness. Instead of focusing on what can be done to help sufferers, it is almost nothing but the most negative information that could be found. It would be nice if it could focus more on solutions than statistics that seem to confirm that the mentally ill are dangerous to society.

This in not a personal attack on Julian Hendy or an attack on the website. It is just the impression I get when I visit the site. It just seems to support the continuation of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Solutions are needed, not statistics.

Articles on the relationship between mental illness & violence:
Better Health Channel: Mental Illness & Violence
SANE Australia: Violence & Mental Illness
Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia: Understanding Mental Illness & Violence (pdf)
World Psychiatry: Violence & Mental Illness: An Overview
The New England Journal of Medicine: Violence & Mental Illness - How Strong Is The Link?
Response Ability: Mental Illness & Violence
Mind: Dangerousness & Mental Health: The Facts
The Guardian: Substance abuse, not mental illness, causes violent crime
Psych Central: Dispelling the Myth of Mental Illness & Violence

The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

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