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Offending by Psychiatric Patients Is Rare

Updated on December 23, 2012

In recent years, the escalation of violence has become more heinous with each criminal act, and several of these mass killings have included innocent children. As usual, the mentally ill are suspected of the senseless murders that have been acted out by a psychotic brain from hallucinations, delusions, and projected hate. But how many people with mental illness are actually violent? And why are murder sprees and mass killings overwhelmingly male? Is our society handling mental illness as a community, or are we letting potentially dangerous people slip through the cracks of healthcare? Let’s explore the reasons for these senseless violent crimes, and what we may be able to do about it.

Societal Issues: People are Misinformed about Violence and Mental Illness

People who suffer with mental health issues are more likely to be the victim of a violent act than commit one. Schizophrenia, a mental illness that affects about one percent of the population, rarely contributes to violence, much less murder. TV and movies often depict the schizophrenic as a maniacal murderer that performs deadly rituals with bizarre behavior and evil. In reality, schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by hallucinations (visual disturbances), hearing internal voices that usually command the person to do something (auditory hallucinations), and delusions (an irrational perception that is believed), such as someone is out to harm them from outer space, or the FBI. However, mental illness complicates people's personalities, it does not distinguish it. If you are a non-violent person with empathy, the fact that you are mentally ill does not change that fact. People are who they are, despite their mental illness, limitations, or overall health.

Stigmatizing Mental Illness adds to the Disconnection of Reality and the Isolation from Society

It is estimated that 5% to 10% of murders are committed by people with mental illness. But the proportion of mass homicides are committed by the highest rates of mental illness in the population. Perhaps the people who are isolated by society, stigmatized for their mental issues, and isolated by family and friends become more affected by their illness which exacerbates a violent response. As will any illness, people without support have less of a chance of survival and live a lower quality of life.

Drug Induced Paranoia is Highly Responsible for Murders and Injuries

People who engage in substance abuse for long periods of time can become paranoid and suffer delusions of persecution. People who use cocaine, meth-amphetamines, alcohol, and other drugs may perform violent murders that they believed were justified by their hallucinations or delusions. Crack cocaine has been responsible for countless murders and deaths due to the inducement of paranoid behavior in the users. Although the media may state that these people were “psychotic” or have some type of “mental illness,” this is not always completely correct.While it can be argued that people with mental illness have higher substance abuse rates, it is also true that substance abuse can cause mental illness. Hence, the chicken or the egg.

Personality Disorders may be Deadly

Psychopaths make up approximately 20 percent of the prison population. Antisocial personality disorder defines a person who has no empathy for others, manipulates and exploits others for material gain or self satisfaction. Most people would agree that these psychopathic personalities are the most successful in murder and are usually involved in crime and many are career criminals. For instance, the Mafia, gangs, and people who murder for hire or profit. These personality disorders are not to be confused with mental illness or the legal definition of insanity. Mental illness may involve a person who experiences a break in reality, known as psychosis, but personality disorders rarely experience psychosis, and are fully aware of what they are doing is wrong and punishable by the law.

What do I do if a Family Member Acts Psychotic?

The law states that no one can be forced to take their medication or enter themselves into treatment for any kind of illness.Back in the 1970s, people who exhibited mental illness or simply exhibited eccentricities could be forced to take medication, be admitted to mental hospitals, or even undergo electric shock therapy (ECT). This was a flagrant violation of civil rights and people are now entitled under the Patient Rights act to refuse any kind of medical treatment.

What if they Threaten to Hurt Someone or Themselves?

If they are a danger to themselves or someone else, they may be held legally for observation for three days; then the insurance companies will begin to ride the backs of the psychiatrists to release the patient. If the patient states they are not suicidal or homicidal, they will be released with or without their medications. They can refuse to take them, that is the law. The problem is that the few that are potentially violent will slip through the cracks and may even hurt someone before they are helped, and then they will most likely be incarcerated.

I am Afraid of My Child and Don't Know Where to Turn

Many families are struggling with children that are violent and have the potential to hurt their parents and the people that love them. Read the true story of a mother that fears her teenage son, and how the system is failing her, her son, and our society. I am Adam Lanza's Mother

The Absolute Facts about Murder: What We Know is True

Over 90 Percent of the Murders in America are Committed by Male Offenders

The population of white males between ages 14 and 24 represent only 6 percent of the population, yet they commit almost 19 percent of the murders in America. For young Afro-American males that make up 1.2 percent of this population, this population accounts for 28 percent of all homicides. Together, these two groups of men make up a little over 7 percent of the population and are responsible for45 percent of the homicides committed every year.

80 Percent of Murdered Americans Each Year are Male

Is our society fostering the naturally aggressive nature of young men, or is the American culture lacking in an awareness and understanding of how to handle the potentially violent side of the male human? Why are other cultures, such as Japan, the United Kingdom, and Chile so low on the gun violence scale?

Rite of Passage and Social Restraint for Male Adolescents

If you examine countries with low rates of gun violence, it is obvious that they are more socially conscious and supportive of family and loved ones. Males, as well as females, must follow in their parents footsteps and are assured of a place in their community. Rites of passage dictate the behavior of the young boy becoming a man and how he must control his aggression and sexuality. This consciousness raising decreases stress, fear, and apprehension. Competition is decreased in a society that expects you to assume a role in your life, and not create a place in a society.

Is American Culture Less Conducive to Emotional Well-Being?

In America, you have the option of being free and a complete individual, but that may come with an emotional price. Competition, funds for education, and long periods of the starving student experience may place harsh stressors on people in the process of designing their American dream. This may explain the large amount of college students that experience various forms of mental illness for the first time in their lives. In addition, American societies tend to give the impression that the rite of passage for youngsters becoming adults is to be able to smoke, drink alcohol, and experience adult media and entertainment. This practice may increase the odds of male aggression and distract focus of a healthy life.

Gun Death Rate by Country

El Salvador
United States
South Africa
United Kingdom

This is a historical list of countries by firearm-related death-rate per 100,000 population in one year.


Untreated Mental Illness: The Double Edge Sword

In the 1980s, the Ronald Reagan administration disassembled mental healthcare and closed countless facilities that increased the homeless population dramatically and shifted the responsibility of the mentally ill to the states from the federal government. This change had released those who chose to live with mental illness on their own terms and freed them from laws that incarcerated and held them against their will. However, the administration did not focus on how to treat mental illness, and to this day, we are lacking greatly in understanding and improving the lives of people who suffer from mental illness.


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    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      8 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      Deborah, this is an in depth analysis of violence and its supposed connection to those mentally ill . A very complex issue tackled with great understanding.

      Voted up, interesting and sharing on G+1.

    • epigramman profile image


      8 years ago

      Dear Deborah of Hub divinity: I think I would become severely mentally ill if I didn't have your most interesting and fascinating hubs to choose from and learn about the human mind and body and how it all works.

      Your writing would be so good in a daily syndicated newspaper column because it is far reaching and you have something to offer everyone - I am always amazed at the profound depth in your work - sending you big time hugs from Colin and krazy Kanadian Kats (lol) Tiffy and Gabriel at 8:43pm and in another hour off to work .....

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks Jelly, I so appreciate your insight and honesty. Yes, what is relevant is not always practical in our society.



    • jellygator profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      This is a very thought-provoking article. I believe that our society does create a difficult-to-navigate environment for everyone - young, old, male, female - and too few resources that are practical.

      Nicely done. Voted well and shared.

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hello Pamela, I agree with you, violence is the result of very complex issues that include culture, social acceptance and so many other contributing factors. Thanks for your insight and I appreciate your support!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This a very interesting hub and I think we do not have all he answers at this point. Culture certainly is a valid point and looking at the statistics of the various countries proves that point. I wonder if all the violent video games do not have an impact on many young boys also. I think there are probably multiple reasons and we have a long way to go in recognizing when someone is crossing over that line to that degree of violence. I agree with you that the mentally ill are often mistreated also. Excellent hub.

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hello Gsidely, you are so right. Many times the news media also puts their own spin on the murder and state it was someone with "mental illness" when they truly don't know what the condition of the person is, and yes, it is often exaggerated to make it noteworthy and news worthy. It isn't right, and it contributes to the stigmatization of people who are challenged by mental disorders. Thanks for your great comments!!

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Excellent point, B. Leekly, American communities need to treat all people with respect. This was a hard hub to right, I had to address the issues that were not exactly politically correct, but I wanted to express the mistreatment of the mentally ill. So, yes, I will do a hub on respectful compassion.

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Very insightful Chef, a society is shaped and molded by its policies and beliefs. The big debate is also mental illness vs evil. Do people that slaughter innocents suffer from mental illness, or do they not care about who they hurt or kill because of their lack of empathy? Large issues to big and diverse to discuss on a hub with a max number of 1500 words! Thanks for your insightful commentary, and you've made many good points!

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hi Mperrottet, guns certainly have a major role, and we live in an "insane" society that encourages pills and eating disorders as a part of self-discipline and a healthy weight. But it's many things that contribute to these tragedies of mass murder, not just one answer or solution. Thanks for your valuable input!

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hey Denmarkguy, I am in agreement with you, we really don't know how to treat mental illness, and we haven't tried to figure it out as a community for quite some time. Language is very important and commonality and respect is certainly an issue that has been lost at times in civility. Thanks for your insightful comments and I really appreciate the support!

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 

      8 years ago from Lancashire, England

      A timely reminder that the link between mental disorders and violence is often grossly exaggerated.

      A recent American study found that psychiatric patients living in the community were 14 times more likely to be the victims of violent crime than they were to be perpetrators. If you factor out drug and alcohol misuse, the link between violence and mental illness almost disappears, being restricted to a very small category of psychosis- sufferers who experience command hallucinations (voices telling them to harm people).

      The fundamental problem is the lack of validity of psychiatric diagnoses. It is well established that diagnoses such as "schizophrenia" are poor predictors of future outcome and response to treatment. So where violence is concerned the whole thing becomes tautological i.e. the so-called mentally ill scape-goated after the event - "he must have been mentally ill to carry out such an atrocious act."

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Just stopped by to wish you Happy Holidays. Interesting article.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      8 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Up, Useful, and Interesting. I hope--if you have not already done so--you will write a hub with more about your last point. What needs to be done to get to when American communities treat their mentally ill with responsible and respectful compassion?

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      8 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Thank you for a well researched and presented hub which highlights many facts and helps demythologise the mentally ill. I agree with you that those with mental issues are stigmatised by a largely ignorant majority - in most western societies I would say - but we all have to face up to the fact that mental illness evolves along with everything else. Could it be that we are experiencing a different form of illness, one which is caused by fragmentation of the family, violent visuals on a lot of image based media, drug induced paranoia and a common aggressive language, mostly amongst males but increasingly heard in female gangs.

      This new illness is one of perception compounded by depression and no hope.

      Slaughtering children with an assault weapon must surely be the act of a person who cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Hate plays only a small role in this, if at all. It's the ease of access to guns and the ease of killing we have to look at. Thy are inseparable.

      Guns must be restricted if no more Sandy Hook incidents are to occur but we also have to look at young people more closely with regards to personality disorder and avoidance syndromes.

      Votes for this well constructed article.

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 

      8 years ago from San Antonio, FL

      I think that the easy availability of guns, giving our kids too many drugs for anxiety, depression and ADHD, and not getting enough real treatment through counseling and talk therapy has contributed to our overly high rate of violence. Good thoughtful hub - voted up and interesting.

    • Denmarkguy profile image

      Peter Messerschmidt 

      8 years ago from Port Townsend

      Very interesting article, for sure.

      I personally believe our society is FAR too busy "treating symptoms" rather than "healing underlying causes." Let's go beyond asking what "causes" the violence and how people are mentally ill... just how did we GET TO BECOME a society in which "the use of deadly force" is an "acceptable" means of "problem solving?" Where did the underlying "cultural language" inherent within the commonly uttered statement "If you DO that, I'll effing KILL YOU!" come from?

      Thoughts become words; words become deeds.

      I've lived in quite a few other "western" nations... with VERY low rates of violence... and one of the things I really notice in the US is the "cultural vocabulary" of violence we use... even when we are "just kidding." People in Denmark (for example-- I'm Danish) rarely SAY "I'll effing kill you" even in jest, as part of the predominant societal language. That has little to do with GUNS or mass killings, per se... it's "what lies beneath" our actions; how we conduct ourselves; what is publicly condoned as acceptable behavior.

      Yes, we can certainly try to intervene before someone becomes mentally unstable, but let's not forget that such a person was "grown" in soil we've "fertilized" in such a way that violence "grows" more easily... it's the SOIL that needs tending, not the things growing in it...

      Just my OPINION, of course! :-)


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