Psychiatric Illness and Violence Propensity Essay

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Psychiatric illness is defined here as a diagnosable mental health disorder formally classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. Each mental disorder is arranged together with similar disorders that share similar signs and symptoms, yet are distinct from one another across the larger range of specific symptoms, courses, or durations of an illnesses. The term psychiatric illness is interchanged here with analogous terms such as mental illnesses and disorders, psychiatric or psychological problems, and/or psychopathology. Mental illnesses may have psychosocial, physical, biological, neuropsychological, or environmental origins and also may be influenced by other types of general medical conditions.

Mental illness is one of the possible causes of aggressive and antisocial behavior. By determining how psychiatric disorders may contribute to acts of interpersonal violence, clinicians, law enforcement, judges, and academics hope to develop more accurate risk assessments to protect the public from future harm. Researchers also seek to identify what forms of mental illness are significant predictors of violent behaviors so that they can develop better prevention and intervention treatments strategies to decrease the likelihood of later antisocial behavior in people with symptoms linked to aggression.

Although the vast majority of psychiatric disorders are not linked with violence, various disorders with an onset in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood have to varying degrees been empirically associated with the propensity to commit violence. Although a history of past mental disorder alone generally is not enough to predict violence, a current diagnosis combined with a history of violent behaviors has been empirically linked with violence propensity. Particular disorders appear to increase the likelihood of violence, including oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, personality disorders, psychotic disorders, mood disorders, and substance use and abuse disorders.

Mental Illness And Violence Myths

There is a common perception among the American public that many psychiatrically disordered people are violent, unpredictable, or predatory. When a mass killing in a school, work, or public place occurs, people frequently are unable to make sense of the crime and call the perpetrator “crazy” or “insane.” Public opinion polls consistently find that a majority of Americans believe that mentally ill people are more likely to commit violent crimes. In contrast, mental illness advocates argue that these attitudes are without scientific merit and that they further stigmatize an already disadvantaged population. The issue of mental illness continues to generate controversy as the number of mentally disordered offenders rises nationally. More research is needed to help identify what forms of psychopathology make individuals more prone to violent acts and how we can best treat people with such types of mental health problems before they hurt themselves or others.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Washington, DC: Author.
  2. Bartol, C. R., & Bartol, A. M. (2005). Criminal behavior: A psychosocial approach (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
  3. Monahan, J., Steadman, H. J., Silver, E., Applebaum, P. S., Robbins, P. C., Mulvey, E. P., et al. (2001). Rethinking risk assessment: The MacArthur study of mental disorder and violence. New York: Oxford University Press.

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