Violent Crime: Is Mental Illness to Blame?


In the wake of rampage killings such as the one that took place in Isla Vista, California, in late May, it has become “fashionable” to blame mental illness for violent crimes. There has been no shortage of killing sprees in recent memory, and you may find yourself discussing the subject, or forming an opinion about whether mental illness is a cause of violent, cruel behavior. As with any topic, we should want to know the facts.

So, is there a connection between mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder to crime? The findings of a recent study by psychologists in Minnesota may run counter to the “conventional wisdom”: those with mental illnesses are, statistically, no more inclined to criminal behavior than those without. The lead researcher on this study stated, “The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, not criminal and not dangerous.” Although violent crimes committed by people with severe mental illnesses draw a lot of media attention, such attacks are relatively rare. More than 9 out of 10 acts of criminal violence are committed by people with no history of psychological disorders.

One thing that does bear a striking correlation to violent crime, more than perhaps any other factor, is anger. Uncontrolled anger is potentially explosive, especially in volatile combination with alienation, frustration, and immaturity. However, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), has only one diagnosis relevant to the issue of uncontrolled anger—labeled intermittent explosive disorder (IED). Clearly, more focus needs to be placed on anger management.

Regardless of whether public mental health policy changes, those who have a relationship with someone suffering from a mental illness can learn from the advice of psychologists. They recommend to realize it is a largely hidden problem, to avoid further isolating the sufferer, to listen, and to involve others in a support network. We can also all bear in mind that, overall, violent crime in the United States has gone down considerably in recent years, despite the headlines that suggest otherwise.

Image credit: © Amir Ridhwan/Shutterstock

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  1. surpriser says:

    yeah people with mental illness can not always be to blame

  2. jacob says:


  3. bob says:

    I think its mostly the people with a hard life trying to get revenge