Mentally ill patients are rarely violent and therefore not more likely to commit violent crimes than ordinary people, according to a study recently published in the June issue of Health Affairs. Those who suffer from bipolar disorders, severe depression, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses do not pose a threat to public safety at significant rates, the paper reveals.
The researchers estimated that 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from mental illness in any given year, and about 50 percent are diagnosed with mental problems over a lifetime.
Lead author Beth McGinty, an assistant professor at the school, says that mental illness is ruled out as a factor in most cases of gun violence in the United States since most people affected with these issues do not tend to be violent toward others. That is the opposite to what a large number of news stories spread.
“Most people with mental illness are not violent toward others, and most violence is not caused by mental illness, but you would never know that by looking at media coverage of incidents,” said McGinty, who is an assistant professor in the departments of Health Policy and Management and Mental Health.
— Al Colvin (@algcolvin) June 13, 2016
The research team at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed a sample of 400 news stories published over a 20-year period about mental illness and found that nearly four in 10 show a link between this kind of health problems and violence toward other people. However, less than five percent of violence nationwide has a direct correlation to mental illness, according to the paper.
The news stories involved in the research appeared in 11 high-profile media outlets in the country.
The study unveils evidence that the connection between mental illness and violence toward ordinary people represent “an unfair portrait” to mentally ill patients because they are often seen as if they were at a higher risk of showing violent behavior.
Over a 20-year period, the study authors say, little had changed in media portrayal of mental illness in connection with violent conduct. In fact, they found that the portrayals had even increased the stigma, with one percent of newspaper stories showing a correlation between violence and mental illness on the front page from 1994 to 2005, compared with 18 percent from 2005 to 2014.
Amon the news stories that linked mental illness with violence toward others, 38 percent noted that mental health issues can increase the risk of violent behavior. Another 8 per cent mentioned that the majority of people with mental illness are rarely involved in violence toward others.
Specifically, schizophrenia was the diagnosis that most frequently appeared in the stories in connection with violence – 17 percent –.
McGinty said the media efforts to hurt the image of mentally ill patients had been greater than those to reduce stigma related to mental health issues. She added that many of the affected people were able to live healthy and productive lives, regardless of the false perception the media has created about them. The lead researcher also expressed that, ‘in an ideal world’, reporters would clarify the meaningless percentage of people with mental illness involved in violent behavior.
— Marc Bryant (@MarcJamesBryant) June 12, 2016