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Always linking mental illness to mass violence only adds to associated stigma

October 27, 2017 Mental Health


Always linking mental illness to mass violence only adds to associated stigma

Every episode of mass violence in the United States stirs up several questions about the ulterior motive of the perpetuator behind his or her action. And it seems like a norm when almost every massacre is attributed to the individual’s mental health problems. Similarly, speculations are rife about the mental health condition of Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old gunman responsible for the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017. When asked if Paddock had any history of mental illness, his brother asserted, “Not a bit.”

Even if Paddock was mentally ill, he probably would not have been deterred even after treatment. Although access to improved mental health screening and treatment helps many individuals, experts reject the “scapegoating” of mentally ill people in preventing gun violence. Most researchers agree that a significant majority of individuals with mental illness are not violent, and though treatment can mitigate the risk of violence, most violent behavior is not induced by mental disorders.

After every mass shooting event, an association between mental illness and an elevated risk of violence is sought to be established. Moreover, many critics tend to find a relationship between mass shooters and serious mental disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression. Although the U.S. has about 5 percent of the world’s population, it accounted for 31 percent of global mass shootings between 1966 and 2012. According to Adam Lankford, a criminology professor at the University of Alabama, “That is not a coincidence.”

Inaccurate association between mental illness and violence perpetuates stigma

A recent research published by Emma E. Beth McGinty, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, highlighted that routinely associating mental illness with public violence results in unjust treatment of people with such disorders. McGinty said that despite the progress made in reducing stigma, “this portrayal of mental illness as closely linked with violence exacerbates a false perception about people with these illnesses, many of whom live healthy, productive lives.” If media gave higher publicity to stories about successful treatment, it would reduce the stigma and also “provide a counter image to depictions of violence,” she said.

Substance abuse, not mental illness, has been implicated in mass violence. Findings from an exhaustive study conducted over a 30-year period concluded that “substance abuse within mentally disordered forensic patients should be considered an important risk factor for violence and re-offending.” Another study found that “alcohol and drug use increase the risk of violent crime by as much as seven-fold, even among persons with no history of mental illness.” The study cited history of childhood abuse, binge drinking and male gender as “predictive risk factors for serious violence.”

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), of the 120,000 gun homicides in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010, less than 5 percent involved people with mental illnesses. A previous study on adolescent mass murderers found that although 23 percent had a previous psychiatric history, only 6 percent were considered psychotic at the time of the mass murder. Most of these adolescents were considered loners with substance use disorders (SUD), while over half were victims of bullying, had a history of violence or were fixated with “violent fantasy.”

Mass killers mostly tend to externalize blame

Michael Stone, a forensic psychiatrist at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, has found that severe mental illness was involved in about 20 percent cases of mass killings. Most mass killers suffered from personality or antisocial disorders, and were disgruntled, humiliated and full of rage. It is unlikely that such individuals will benefit from mental health screenings or treatment processes.

Notwithstanding findings from scientific research, it is acknowledged that though some mass killers have mental illnesses, they are not recognized or properly treated. While the 21st Century Cures Act extends Assisted Outpatient Treatment which can provide treatment to the mentally ill, it is available only to those individuals with a previous history of psychiatric hospitalization or arrest.

Dealing with mental disorders

Mental disorders affect the way an individual thinks, behaves and feels. Further, their symptoms can exacerbate, when left untreated. If you have a loved one suffering from a mental disorder, seek immediate professional help.

Any treatment for mental health disorders must be customized to suit the needs of specific individuals. Recover Mental Health experts can help you find the right treatment program as well as state-of-the-art outpatient mental health treatment centers which provide these. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-593-2339 or chat online with one of our experts to know about the best outpatient mental health facilities in your vicinity.

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