Mental Illness & Violence


The National Rifle Association (NRA) proposed that a national registry of people with mental illness be created to limit their ability to purchase guns, yet the NRA is not interested in reasonable gun safety laws and restrictions on certain kinds of firearms with high-capacity magazines. So what would be next? Registries listing socially isolated people, teenagers with aspergers whose mothers teach them how to use firearms? Maybe left-handed red-heads with fiery tempers? The bottom line is we don’t know who is going to kill, but those with a mental health diagnosis are not likely to commit crimes of violence based on that diagnosis.

According to Paul Appelbaum, a psychiatrist and the director of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons’ Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry:

“Gun violence is a mental health issue only to a very small extent and to a much smaller extent than most people assume. Most gun violence is just not committed by people with mental illness. Were we somehow to stop violence by anyone with a mental illness — as unlikely as that outcome might be — we would be safer, but only a teeny bit safer. As much as these incidents attract everybody’s attention and concern, they are a tiny fraction of the people who get killed in this country every year. Mental illness is the cause of fewer mass shootings than the public perceives. If you look at the lists that are put together of those kinds of events, they are primarily family and workplace violence episodes. Finally, persons with schizophrenia are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than they are to perpetrate them.”  (From article by Jeffrey Young, Huffington Post 1/31/14)

Thanks to movies and the media, the diagnosis of “mental illness” incites fear in people, even though 1 in 5 of us will be diagnosed at some time in our life. We want an explanation for violent behavior. We want to believe that we can identify unstable people who might open fire in a school or at a congress woman. We need answers to ease our questions and fears, but most of those responsible for the recent mass shootings would not have been on a registry for either mental illness or previous violence.

Of the two young men described below, the NRA would have the second one on a registry, but not the first.

“He was one of those angry drunks who blacked out, but not before blacking more than one-eye in bar fights, and family fights, and he spent nights in jail after drinking and fighting. A young man, and owner of many guns, he disagrees with background checks for gun owners. After three attempts at month-long treatment facilities, he continues to abuse alcohol.” 

“Another man diagnosed with schizophrenia reports a schoolyard scrap once in third grade, but dislikes and avoids confrontation.  He is employed part-time, lives quietly by himself and enjoys dinner with friends a couple times a week. He does not own a gun, never used one, and has no interest in ever using one. If his illness worsens due to anxiety or stress, his voices may increase telling him that he’s no good and never has been, or that he should board a bus and move to another state. He sees his therapist twice a month and his psychiatrist monthly. He has not had a serious setback for several years.”

If you discover your next door neighbor has the illness called schizophrenia, bi-polar, or major depression would you be afraid? Avoid him or her? I have been employed at two psycho-social rehabilitation facilities for adults with mental illness, and spent several years working with children diagnosed with mental illness who were wards of the state due to parental neglect or abuse. Day in and day out for years, I have hung out with people with mental illness. They are fun, funny, bright, creative, particular, or messy, annoying at times, kind and lovable. They have goals and dreams. They have college degrees or haven’t finished high school. They are a microcosm of every population. They are you. Maybe you have diabetes or high blood pressure, which affects your mood with worry, or your mind if your blood sugar level is off, but no one is afraid of you or avoids you because of your illness. You have no stigma working against you.

When an act of violence occurs, we know something is wrong with the person firing guns, raping, stabbing, any brutality. What incites a person to kill, and how close are any of us to pulling a trigger? Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from military service or other traumas, pushed or bullied one time too many? Is it childhood abuse resulting in lack of self-worth, which often results in substance use, too many prescribed drugs, despair and confusion that becomes anger, sadness, and a desire to die and take others along?

BBC News carried an article by Dan Edge from This World:

Seventeen US soldiers from a Colorado military base who mostly served in Iraq have been linked to violent killings and attempted killings since their return to US soil. Three of them came from one platoon – highlighting how a generation of American soldiers struggle to cope with life after military service. More than half of the platoon said they suffered from psychological problems after Iraq.

A healthy person must be trained to kill. Santa Fe author Craig Barnes writes of this in his book In Search of the Lost Feminine.

The evidence is overwhelming that men have to be raised, desensitized, and given a rationale for killing. They shrink from it naturally. In World War II, 75 to 80 percent of riflemen did not fire their weapons at an exposed enemy, even to save their own lives and the lives of their friends. This is such a problem and so undeniably the natural reaction to combat that the U.S. military was forced to undertake a radical change in training and conditioning. By the time of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, and entirely because of such training and desensitization, the non-firing rate had been reduced to only 5 percent. (Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, 1995).

Men could be trained to kill, but more importantly, they had to be trained to kill.

“Studying nonviolence is not for the faint or weak of heart, nor conformists or the close-minded,” Colman McCarthy wrote in the syllabus for his Alternatives to Violence seminar. “Instead, it is for those who are intellectually brave, spiritually alive, socially engaged and lovers of long-shots.”

Mary Clare Fischer interviewed McCarthy for the University of Maryland’s Independent Newspaper, The Diamondback on October 2012:

For over 30 years, McCarthy has taught more than 10,000 students alternatives to violence. In 1966, he became the speechwriter for Sargent Shriver, and from there to writing for the Washington Post, and McCarthy spoke with many well-known peace-makers.

“We are not wired to be violent,” McCarthy said. “You have to learn how to be violent, and you have to learn how to be peaceful. We have the capacity to go either way.”

So he became a peace spreader, like those he’d interviewed who came before him. Starting at the School Without Walls in 1982, McCarthy introduced his students to an alternative lifestyle, sidestepping homework and exams in favor of discussion and analysis

McCarthy volunteered at a Washington D.C. high school to teach peace studies. By this point, McCarthy had already expanded his teaching schedule, adding Wilson High School, Georgetown University Law Center, American University, The Washington Center for Internships, and The University of Maryland to his resume. After the termination of his column, he offered lessons to juvenile delinquents at the Oak Hill Youth Center.

We cannot predict who will kill, but we know that violence begets violence. Perhaps violence should be a diagnosis of its own?  Our culture would be diagnosable with its epidemic enthusiasm for violence. Continued episodes of TV dramas beginning with a gorgeous murdered woman, high rates of child abuse, violence towards women in the military, in marriages/relationships, human sex trafficking of young girls (and boys), ultimate fighting, and endless wars. The list goes on.

We know that children learn best by example. Based on facts we know that mental illness does not cause violence. Discussion and analysis of violence without using people with a mental health diagnosis as the scapegoat would be a start.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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    • Pharmaceutical companies who sell drugs like Zoloft, Prozac and Paxil spend like $2.4 billion dollars a year on direct-to-consumer television advertising every year. By running negative stories about psychiatric drugs, networks risk losing tens of millions of dollars in ad revenue, which is surely one of the major reasons why the connection to violence is habitually downplayed or totally ignored by T.V news.

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      • There is money in dangerous lunatics. But its probably thousands of times easier to get murdered or injured on a Saturday night in a big city like London by a normal drunken person than to be hurt by someone with a mental health Label.
        I have flipped on psychiatric drugs myself, and if I was on the drugs again I would probably flip again.

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  1. The National Rifle Association (NRA) proposed that a national registry of people with mental illness be created…So what would be next?

    I don’t know but in September 1941, the Nazi regime, at Goebbels’s urgent request, ordered Germany’s Jews over the age of 6 to sew on their clothing a yellow Star of David with the word Jude (Jew) in bold, Hebrew-like letters.

    What ever comes next is surely to be modeled upon the already existing National Sex Offender Registry, but it would not be limited to those who’ve been convicted of criminal offenses. A serious mental health offense exists by application of any diagnosis by a mental health clinician, and anyone so diagnosed could be included in the registry and then monitored for compliance with a psychiatric treatment regimen.

    This is all about prevention!

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    • But even before 1941, German psychiatrists were gassing thousands of people labeled “mentally ill.” They did this with the consent and blessing of the German government. This was partly due to the strong influence of Social Darwinism that swept across the world right after WWI. This created the Eugenics movement that existed even in this country. The Rockefeller Foundation here in the United States supported the euthanization of people deemed “less fit” and applauded what took place in Germany between WWI and WWII. We were already sterilizing people in “mental hospitals” at this point and were even ahead of Germany in numbers sterilized. German doctors complained to their media that Americans were getting ahead of Germany and that they needed ot step up operations to catch up. They even started sterilizing relatives of those labeled as “less fit!”

      In Germany it went from sterilizing people to gassing them in the gas chambers and then burning their bodies in the ovens. There were six German cities where the gas chambers and ovens were built, usually right next to the “mental hospitals” located in those designated cities. Anyone deemed not worthy of a place in the Master Race were called “useless eaters” and the “mentally ill” were included in this group, along with gay people, Jews, people of the Rom (gypsies). So, the gas chambers were getting rid of thousands of German people labeled as “mentally ill.”

      Eventually, German psychiatry taught the Nazis about the use of the gas chambers and ovens. The Nazis didn’t create these things, German psychiatry did. The Nazis took them over to carry out their “Final Solution.” German psychiatry quit sending the “mentally ill” to the chambers but then initiatied a policy of killing off the “mentally ill” left in the hospitals by starvation. American soldiers talked about going into these “psychiatric hospitals” and finding dead bodies and people starving to death, all under the guidance of the “medical staff” of these so-called “hospitals.” In Germany, many people were deemed not worthy of receiving services, this sounds to me to be very similar to the mantra preached by the Tea Party in this country.

      In 1941, at the yearly meeting of the American Psychiatric Association the keynote speaker stated very clearly that what German psychiatry was doing in Germany should be done here in America. Anyone labeled as “mentally ill” should be put to a “kind” death! Only two psychiatrists stood up to oppose this speaker. In 1942, an anonymous editorial appeared in the Journal of the APA advocating the “kind killing” of the “mentally ill and the mentally retarded.”

      Don’t think that what took place in Germany before the Nazi takeover can’t happen here in this country. Look what happened just this week in Congress with the passing of one bill and the debate of another that both mandate forced drugging, all for “our own good” of course!

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      • It is same game they played in WWII, destroy the economy, defame people with unprovable and scientifically invalid “mental illnesses,” and take over a government. It can, and seemingly is, happening in the US. Yes, it can happen in Oz. God save the decent.

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      • When we are at the topic of crimes committed by psychiatry not that long ago: there is an awesome chapter in Naomi’s Klein book “Shock Doctrine” on the experiments conducted in collaboration with CIA and link between psychiatry and development of sophisticated torture techniques:
        “psychiatric shock therapy and the covert experiments conducted by the psychiatrist Ewen Cameron in collusion with the Central Intelligence Agency: how it was partially successful in distorting and regressing patients’ original personality, but ineffectual in developing a “better” personality to replace it. Parallels with economic shock therapy are made, including a digression on how government agencies harnessed some of the lessons learned to create more effective torture techniques. Torture, according to Klein, has often been an essential tool for authorities who have implemented aggressive free market reforms – this assertion is stressed throughout the book. She suggests that for historical reasons the human rights movement has often portrayed torture without explaining its context, which has made it frequently appear as pointless cruelty.” from wikipedia

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  2. @Copy_cat “and all human beings , ” This is all about prevention!”
    Bear with me a moment , Russell Blaylock MD retired neurosurgeon says the flu shot that is offered for free everywhere actually blocks cellular immunity and makes those that get it more vulnerable to any future epidemic that might “accidentally”sweep across the country . When or if that happens will there will be a call for the population to line up for medically mandatory injections “that provide protection” and will those that refuse hear a knock on their door and be forced to comply ? And what will the injections do to us ? Will we become used to lining up for them ? Or are we already there? We certainly know by now that laws can be changed over night with hardly even a pseudo- discussion.
    This scapegoating of the diagnosed,oppressive laws being rapidly driven through ,all under the umbrella of “government health concerns for us” medical AMA or APA is a growing more obvious thinly disguised Trojan Horse of an on going and accelerating control and culling of the population. “First they came for the Psychiatrically Diagnosed .” Read Naiomi Klein’s book “Shock and Awe”
    I believe the puppet master robber barons feel they and their family’s have enough resources to survive and thrive till later in a world with a very much reduced population still under their control.
    Yes all this also IMO should be part of any discussion on violence.
    Do you really believe that many of the medical drug cocktails are really any safer then the psychiatric drug cocktails ??? Ask yourself if Robert Whitaker did a serious investigation what would he find ??? Read the book “Sick and Tired” by Robert Young .
    Is it better to be for-warned or do we want to be deceived?

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  3. Psychiatric drugs are causing some people to be increasingly violent and suicidal. They are iatrogenically engendering a violent disposition. Coupled with access to enormous firepower in a society that is increasingly fragmented and you have a cauldron ready to boil.

    There are black box labels warning about the potential for suicidality in adolescents when taking SSRIs. What happens at 19? 20? 24? 30? Do those feelings magically go away?

    The evidence is mounting.

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    • I have a hard time killing flies, I’m completely non-violent. Yet when suffering from psychiatric drug withdrawal symptoms (after being “properly” weaned off them by doctors). At the ripe old age of 42, even this completely non-violent person yelled at, and gently pushed, her beloved mother. The drugs CAUSE violence in any age group – the drugs aren’t actually smart enough to know how old the person taking them is. How ridiculous.

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  4. If violence begets violence, and mental health “treatment,” especially when enforced by police and incarceration, is violent, then we can expect that mental health “treatment” will beget more violence, not less. That is what we are seeing.

    There were almost never mass shootings when I was a kid. Now there are many. What has changed since then? A lot more people are taking psych drugs. And yet every time one person so drugged commits a violent crime, it is blamed on the “mental illness.” If “treatment” will reduce violence, how come so many of the extremely violent people are already receiving “treatment?”

    — Steve

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    • Exactly. The mass shootings didn’t begin until the advent of the SSRI’s on the market. I’m 66 years old and never remembered anything like what we’re experiencing with these mass shootings. They didn’t start happening until the psychiatric drugs became prevalent in our society.

      We’re the scapegoat for the NRA, which wants absolutely no discussion at all about the prevalence of guns and violence in our society. I’m just waiting for when all of us with “diagnoses” will be required to wear a star or triangle on our clothes. I wonder which color it will be. Isn’t lime green the “color” for “mental illness?”

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      • Stephen, I have experienced suicidal reaction with psychiatric drugs which I can connect to the drugs. This was covered up by doctors on records sent abroad when I left Ireland (in 1986), even though I specifically asked in writing for it to be included.
        The consultant psychiatrist involved went on to write published papers on the merits of the particular drug in question, Modecate depot injection.

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        • I complained to the Irish Medical Council and they gave me details on the junior doctors no longer registered. I naturally presumed the consultant to be retired.

          He wasn’t retired though. He was on one of the Irish Medical Councils Committees.

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          • That was last year. Staff at the Medical Council, claimed they hadn’t recognized the Consultants name, even though they acknowledged knowing him in person. They did allow me to make a complaint, and then carried out an overall block. I think he might have genuinely retired now.

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    • Well, the knee-jerk reaction of anyone who was subjected to the standard operating procedure of involuntary hospitalisation and drugging is aggression. To be honest I am actually shocked that psychiatrists don’t get murdered by their current and ex-patients and the hospitals are not being bombed on the daily basis. To me it looks like the “mentally ill” must be the most forgiving and self-restraint part of the population.

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      • I haven’t even heard of one Psychiatrist being tasered in response to electric shock torture which I experienced among others atrocities in their tool box.
        I guess its also partly because of the successful and profitable intimidation campaign of “Shock and Awe” against the civilian population under the guise of “humanitarian health care ” doublespeak ,with a focus on more lifelong rigor for the already labeled.

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        • Most people don’t even know that these practices are being still in use. I myself was convinced that electroshocks went to die as a “treatment” with lobotomies and was shocked (no pun intended;P) to find out otherwise.

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          • After my last comment I remembered also another factor which I suppressed that utterly protects psychiatrists from their victims, is the fact that the addictive nature of the poisonous reconstituted insecticide, pesticide, like substances (look at the effects) they call “did you take your meds” , for the labeled and the belief so many of us have had and so so many more still have, brainwashed into their subconscious mind as well as our loved ones minds, (that we must take these meds for our entire life). That the psychiatrist is our “vitally needed med provider” and we become aware that even a wrong word to one of the counseling social worker or nurse Rachet people under him could have our permanent labels arbitrarily modified in such a way that we are promoted to another level of more feared torture or suddenly become ineligible to receive our disability checks as we hang in limbo in some kind of precarious inescapable feeling fractured palookaville that we are told is our permanent illness.
            The Bird
            Born into a world with no sky
            Bird crouched slowly forward
            Looking for an opening
            In the cement ceiling
            It was no use unfolding his wings
            he had been walking for years
            In darkness searching
            Bird would have given up
            long ago
            But certain things still puzzled
            What was the tapping
            he sometimes heard
            that seemed to come through
            from the ?
            Fred Abbe

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