Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Violence, mental illness and stigma: A misleading combination

A recent letter to the editor in the Frederick Free Lance-Star takes the politically correct stance that people with mental illnesses are no more violent than the general public. This myth is further asserted by claims that recognizing and trying to address the correlation between violence and untreated mental illness creates stigma which in turn is the greatest barrier to treatment. This is mental health sophistry.

Certainly, when people with a severe mental illness are receiving appropriate treatment, they are no more violent than the general population; however, a number of studies show that a portion of people with mental illnesses ARE more dangerous when not receiving treatment.

As TAC president, Dr. E. Fuller noted in his recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:
Since 1994, nine U.S. studies have illustrated this [link to violence and untreated mental illness]. The best known, the Violence Risk Assessment Study, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, followed 961 seriously mentally ill individuals for one year after hospital discharge. During that time, these individuals committed 608 acts of serious violence (physical injury, threat of or actual assault with a weapon, or sexual assault), including six homicides. The most important finding: Those who regularly attended treatment sessions had less than one-quarter the rate of violence compared to those who did not.
As for stigma as the greatest barrier to treatment? Hardly. Surely stigma exists and keeps some people from seeking treatment, but as we’ve witnessed with the recent Virginia Tech shootings, the greatest barriers to treatment are misinformation, lack of education amongst mental health professionals, and poor treatment laws.

Labels: , ,