topics Policy Research Mental Illness & Violence

Mental Illness & Violence

In the aftermath of mass violence and the furor of the 24-hour news cycle, the words “mental illness” are often used to try to explain a perpetrator’s actions. In many cases, the assumption that mental illness had to be involved in these incidents drives the public debate about solutions. This kind of coverage might raise awareness of how important mental health care is, but it is ultimately problematic because too often it also spreads inaccurate definitions of “mental illness” and imposes further stigma on those who actually suffer from bona fide mental health conditions.

Although some mental illnesses, such as untreated psychotic disorders, are associated with an increased risk of violence toward others, most mental health conditions are associated with a comparable or lower risk. The major exceptions are depression and other mood disorders, which are the primary drivers of violence directed at the self, with suicide rates in the United States increasing significantly in recent years.

In this white paper, updated in February 2020, we define “mental illness,” discuss which diagnoses may have higher rates for violence and describe evidenced-based treatments that can help reduce the risk of violence.

View or download the full white paper Mental Illness and Violence: Current Knowledge and Best Practices.