More often than not, when you hear about a school shooting, a mass killing, or other horrible tragedy, you hear people try to seek out something to blame. One of the more common things people blame is mental illness. You hear about how a shooter had schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder or some other mental disorder. They make claims about how these things end up causing the violence. But in reality, all they are doing is spewing false information and a myth that people with mental illness are violent.
The traces of this myth go back to the 1950s-1960s (Lillenfield et al., 2010). Around this time, more and more people began to believe that mental illnesses were more related to violence and violent crimes (Lillenfield et. al, 2010). The 1980s, however, is when this belief, that mentally ill people are violent, began to take off (Stuart, 2010). And this belief is, and has been, reinforced by the availability heuristic (Lillenfield et. al, 2010). “Because of the availability heuristic…, our tendency to judge the frequency of events with the ease with which they come to mind, this media coverage virtually guarantees that many people will think ‘violence’ whenever they hear ‘mental illness'” (Lillenfield et al., 2010).
A study by Heather Stuart however disproved this myth (2010). In her study, she found that there is not sufficient evidence to link people who have mental illness and violence (Stuart, 2010). It has been found that people who have mental illnesses only commit 3 to 5% of violent crimes in the United States of America (Mental Health, n.d.). And actually, to rather end up flipping the myth, it has been found that people who have mental illnesses are 10 times more likely to be the victims of violent crimes and actions than people without mental illness (Mental Health, n.d.). So, essentially, rather than being the perpetrators of heinous and violent acts, they are more likely to be ended up being attacked.
So, despite all the reports the media feeds you about how all these mass murderers having a mental illness. Just remember that it is statistically shown that they actually commit a smaller portion of crimes than people without mental illness do (Mental Health, n.d.). So remember that next time you make assumptions about people with mental illnesses.
I Am Not Crazy. (2013, September 20) Violence and Mental Illness [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxK8FO66Hg0
John Oliver (2015, October 5). John Oliver Breaks Down America’s Problem With Gun Violence And Mental Illness [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYniL8PWdbA
Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., Ruscio, J., & Beyerstein, B. L. (2010). 50 great myths of popular psychology: Shattering widespread misconceptions about human behavior. Chichester, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell.
Mental Health Myths and Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved November 27, 2015, from http://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/myths-facts/
Stuart, H. (2003). Violence and mental illness: an overview. World Psychiatry, 2, 121–124.