Mental illness alone is no trigger for violence
- February 02, 2009
CHICAGO - A new large study challenges the idea that mental illness alone is a leading cause of violence. Researchers instead blame a combination of factors, specifically substance abuse and a history of violent acts, that drives up the danger when combined with mental illness in what they call an "intricate link."
People with serious mental illness, without other big risk factors, are no more violent than most people, according to the study of more than 34,000 U.S. adults. The research was released Monday in Archives of General Psychiatry.
"Mental illness can provide the knee-jerk explanation for the Virginia Tech shootings," but it's not a strong predictor of violence by itself, said lead author Eric Elbogen of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.
Elbogen compiled a "top 10" list of things that predict violent behavior, based on the analysis.
Younger age topped the list. History of violence came next, followed by male gender, history of juvenile detention, divorce or separation in the past year, history of physical abuse, parental criminal history and unemployment in the past year. Rounding out the list were severe mental illness with substance abuse and being a crime victim in the past year.
After the 2007 Virginia Tech killings by a student ordered to get psychiatric treatment, some states considered laws adding mental health questions to background checks for gun buyers or denying weapons to people who've been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment.
The new research, which bolsters other similar findings, raises questions about such laws, experts said. Such legislation may be both ineffective and discourage people who need help from getting treatment.
"We are being misled by our own fears," said Columbia University psychiatry professor Dr. Paul Appelbaum, who wasn't involved in the new study. "We ought to be concerned about providing...