May 4, 2012

Mental Illness and Crime Prevention

"Not guilty by reason of insanity" cases often bring out mental illness stigma. It's just a dodge, people say. Whatever your opinion about how this is handled in criminal trials, there's a key role for mental health in crime prevention.

Ordinary people need to know more about the patterns of behavior that can indicate a person is becoming more violent. Information often becomes available in the weeks before these mass attacks. Right now, unless the attack planner is actually seeing a therapist, very few people connect the dots and phone the police as a plot begins to unfold.

This is not a binary issue like the criminal justice system tends to approach it.

Dangerousness and mental illness follow multiple pathways. For example, people with paranoid delusions can commit terrible crimes. They are motivated by their delusions, but can stay connected with the world, accumulate weapons, and plan attacks. Compare this to the more typical case of a person who is decompensating because of stressors and difficulties holding themselves together. They might become dangerous, but can very often be de-escalated, and their attacks are less well organized.

There's a good presentation about risk of violence here:

Read the news article that this opinion was posted about:
Not All Outrageous Crimes Are Linked To Mental Illness

This post originally appeared at

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