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Surprising Science

Mental Illness Doesn’t Equal Violence

Recent shootings and the accompanying media coverage have probably fed the public’s perception that most profoundly mentally ill people are violent but studies show just the opposite. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Most researchers investigating the question of aggression in the mentally ill have found a small but telling association between violence and significant psychological disturbance. “In a 2009 meta-analysis of 204 studies exploring this connection, psychologist Kevin Douglas of Simon Fraser University found a slightly greater likelihood of aggressive behaviors among those with severe mental illnesses. Yet this connection is much weaker than the public seems to believe it is and does not necessarily mean that these serious disorders cause violence.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The stereotype of the crazed individual killing multiple strangers in public simply does not hold up to scrutiny. “Although some noteworthy tragedies fit this description, these instances are quite rare. In fact, given how few mentally ill people become violent, a person with a severe psychological disorder is more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator of violence. Mentally ill people are victims in their own right. A severe psychiatric condition is a terrible burden, even without being treated with suspicion by the community.”


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