We have all seen the horrific acts of violence on TV, the recent school shootings and most recently the Cleveland kidnappings. As we sit in horror in our safe living rooms and watch the details of the events unfolding right before our eyes, we try and understand the motives and mindset behind such heinous acts.
Not long after the initial coverage of any event, we find ourselves glued to the latest “TV psychiatrist” that Nancy Grace just pulled out of her pocket, trying to gather some sense to the crimes. We watch and listen to their assessment and without a doubt jump to the conclusion that mental illness played a part in the decision to murder, or rape most violently, another human being.
Well, to be fair to the public, unless a psychiatrist has done a complete forensic evaluation on the alleged criminal, gathered history on any previous criminal behavior and has access to any mental health records, that psychiatrist is doing a terrible injustice to the public.
We cannot, however, put all the blame on these TV doctors, looking for a few minutes of fame, we also have to take a grain of salt before we put our trust in some TV anchors.
The myth of schizophrenia and violence, for example, is one of the most false realities out there today. The thinking that people with schizophrenia are inherently violent persists.
The media hype along with the entertainment industry should take considerable responsibility in the stigma schizophrenia patients and their families face. By spreading and promoting myths about schizophrenia and violence, these industries have caused great harm to the struggle to dismiss shame associated with mental illness.
How Brian Williams Fueled the Furor
Recently, TV anchor Brian Williams made quite a statement as he splashed the picture of Ariel Castro, who held three Cleveland women captive for a decade, during his sentencing hearing. Mr. Williams uttered the words “face of mental illness” to the world as he described this sadistic violent monster.
His words fueled anger amongst mental health advocates all over the country. So much so that at least one person launched a petition on Change.org, demanding an apology or at least a recant from Mr. Williams himself.
According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, only 5% of people with mental illness have showed any display of violence. The rate among people without a diagnosed mental illness and violence is much, much higher.
Predictors of violence are as follows:
–> Growing up in an unstable household, with anti-social role models
–> History of being physically, emotionally or sexually abused
–> Substance abuse in the home
–> Being male
–> Significant stressful life events.
In saying this, I do believe it is only fair that we mention the rate of violence does increase with the use of substances. With medical insurance rates through the roof, cuts in public assistance and medication assistance programs being slashed, the access to the proper medical necessities for the mentally ill has become a significant challenge. This can result in self-medication through illicit substances, which in turn can increase the potential level of violence in anyone, for that matter.
Although we struggle to find explanations as to why people commit unspeakable acts of horrible violence, we should not focus on extraneous variables in a person just because they’re convenient. Mental illness — by itself — is not the cause of violence in an individual.