Do people suffering from mental disorders have a predisposition to violence? Is there a higher rate of violence in mental disorder patients than the general population? My purpose in this report is to define violence and mental disorders and the co-relation between the two, bringing to light studies conducted in those areas. What I hope to illustrate is the contemporary view of mentally ill patients and whether or not mental illness is a contributor to violence in the society.
On September 3, 2006, Wayne Fenton, a well-known schizophrenia expert and the associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), was found beaten to death in his office. He had just seen a 19-year-old schizophrenia patient who later confessed to the murder, using his fists to beat Fenton (Friedman, 2006, 20). Other similar attacks have also caught newspaper headlines in the recent past. Such attacks by psychotic patients emphasize a larger question: Are people with mental illness more likely than others to engage in violent behavior?
If so, which mental disorders are linked to violence, and what is the extent of the increase in risk? It has long been assumed that mentally ill individuals are more prone to crime, especially violent crime, than the rest of the society. The media accentuates this view with reports revealing the psychiatric history of criminals. They try to form a link between unexplainable acts of violence – like school shootings, suicide bombing, infanticide, etc. – and evidence of mental disorder.
There is extensive literature on the correlation of violence and mental disorder which focusing mainly on mental illness and violence, with a tertiary interest in developmental and interpersonal issues associated with personality disorder. Earlier studies revealed that psychiatric patients were no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population, but recent studies have established an unfailing connection. These recent findings are, in my opinion, the result of increased sophistication of research methodology as well as changes in patient populations as an outcome of deinstitutionalization (Stueve & Link, 1998).
Law makers have long suspected a link, and people suffering from mental disorders have been the only persons in democratic societies who can be detained involuntarily based on their (seeming) potential for violence. Defining Violence and Mental Disorders Violence Glasser defined it simply as: ‘A bodily response with the intended infliction of bodily harm on another person’, (Glasser, 1999, p. 79), which is a straightforward and functional definition.
De Zulueta (1993) views violence as an essentially human characteristic related to the meaning we give to destructive forms of interpersonal or personal behavior, the meaning being determined by social context. She distinguishes it from aggression, which has been used by ethnologists to refer to a form of social behavior human beings share with other animals. For the purpose of this report, I will limit the definition of violence to include acts of violence committed against others and exclude acts of violence against oneself, in the form of self harm and suicide.