Myth vs. Fact: Sorting out mental illness, violence relationship

It is true that a higher percentage of those with serious mental illness are likely to engage in violent behavior than those in the general population. This fact speaks more to the reality that we have unsatisfactory resources to treat persons with mental illness, our current tools don’t adequately address those who refuse treatment due to lacking awareness of their own condition, and funds are disproportionately allocated to build prisons when we need hospitals. Tending to these details will weaken any association between mental illness and violence.

Taking away guns from those who have mental illness would do little to decrease gun violence in the U.S. According to Louis Beckett’s interview with Dr. Jeffrey Swanson in ProPublica, June 10, 2014, if one was to remove, “all the risk associated with mental illness … contributing to people killed by gunshot wounds in the last 10 years … 95 percent of the reduction would be from suicide. Only 5 percent would be from homicide.” He goes on to say, “Mental illness is a strong risk factor for suicide. It’s not a strong risk factor for homicide.”

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