HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mental Health and Violence Data

Scientific studies conducted over the last 15 years suggest that mental illness has a positive relationship to aggression, but psychiatric disorders make only a minor contribution to a person’s statistical risk of acting violently. Most people with mental illnesses do not act violently. Over the past couple decades, however, studies have repeatedly shown that when news stories mention mental illness, they frequently do so in the context of reporting on a violent crime. Such reporting may reinforce the public’s stereotypic association between violence and mental illness and the public’s fear of persons who have psychiatric disorders. This is why mental health professionals and their official organizations have repeatedly expressed concern about the potentially stigmatizing impact of articles such as the one at this link

in the September 9 New York Times.  The next day the New York Times ran a follow-up story of sorts.  The Times reported: 

Two days after a baby girl was stabbed in her stroller in Upper Manhattan and a man in a residential housing program for the mentally ill was arrested in the attack, some mental health advocates defended the program, saying there is no better way to help the mentally ill than by integrating them into the community.

"This is a terrible tragedy to hear about, but it's the exception," said Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.

He was speaking of the case of Bernard Derr, 48, who was arrested Wednesday evening after the police said he stabbed the 10-month-old girl, Isabelle Avins, in an apparently motiveless attack in Washington Heights.

Mr. Derr, who is under psychiatric observation, was arraigned yesterday in the prison ward of Bellevue Hospital Center. His court-appointed lawyer, Deborah Wright, said he was acting incoherently and was unable to answer questions put to him, "talking about other random things."  . . . .

Despite the gruesome nature of the crime, mental health advocates said that the mental health system generally works, and that Mr. Derr's case was a horrible exception.

Thanks to Dr. Doug Mossman for this post and sites.  [bm]

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