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Mental Health Misconceptions


By Paul Tedesco

Mental Health MisconceptionsMood and mental disorders have a serious public relations problem. When a heinous crime is committed the perpetrator is invariably described by the media and/or police as having a “mental health issue” or a “history of depression.” This is often true — I mean what else could adequately explain a crime such as a shooting rampage at a mall, school or movie theatre? The shooter was mentally disturbed. A mentally healthy person doesn’t shoot innocent strangers on mass randomly. Perpetrators are always in a disassociate state, psychotic or just plainly deranged — a generic term for a wide range of mental disorders. In truth mass shootings are rare but understandably garner the most media attention.

What never seems to be expressed by the media or police is the infinitesimally small percentage of persons with mental health issues that actually commit random violent crimes. It’s just not part of the post slaughter discourse and of little consolation to the victims or their grieving families. The raw truth is that a higher percentage of persons dealing with unemployment, divorce and drug abuse are at greater risk of committing violent crimes than those suffering from mental illness.

Persons suffering from mental illness are more likely to become victims of a violent crime — a statistical truth that runs counter to popular culture, TV shows, and movies that popularize misconceptions about mental illness related to violent crime.  Stereotypes are gobbled up like chocolate covered peanuts. Common intuition is nourished by patent falsehoods. In truth, according to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, the odds that a mentally ill person will commit a violent crime is only three per cent – culturally and intuitively counter.

There are variables such as (untreated) serious mental illness, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder coupled with drug and family abuse. Still, cold hard statistics do little to counter the guttural reaction when a crime is committed by a person who is mentally ill — especially one that is so incomprehensively horrific and graphic, yet extremely rare. It is human instinct to spread blame like a raging virus and demand easily digested answers and cures.

Reporters and police go into reflex mode. The general public pulls out a large burlap blanket and without a second thought tosses it at the nearest shivering crazy guy. Feeling safe is an important human need. Truth offers little comfort and woefully few meaningful solutions.