Gerard LeBlond for www.redorbit.com – Your Universe Online
Are mental illness and crime linked?
According to a recent study published by the American Psychological Association, only 7.5 percent of all crimes were directly related to a serious mental disorder. In the analysis, researchers studied 429 crimes that were committed by 143 different offenders with three types of mental illness.
Based on the results, the study authors stated that three percent of the crimes these individuals committed were directly related to the symptoms of major depression, four percent with schizophrenia and 10 percent with bipolar disorder.
“When we hear about crimes committed by people with mental illness, they tend to be big headline-making crimes so they get stuck in people’s heads. The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, not criminal and not dangerous,” said lead researcher Jillian Peterson, PhD, of Normandale Community College.
The study consisted of former defendants of a mental health court in Minneapolis completing a two-hour interview about their criminal background and mental health symptoms over an average of 15 years. The study, published online in the journal Law and Human Behavior, is the first to analyze the connection between mental illness and crime.
There were no predictable patterns discovered linking crime and mental illness in the study. Of the offenders who committed the crimes that were directly related to their illness, two-thirds stated they also had committed crimes unrelated to mental illness, like poverty, being unemployed, substance abuse or being homeless.
“Is there a small group of people with mental illness committing crimes again and again because of their symptoms? We didn’t find that in this study,” Peterson said.
There are more than 1.2 million people with mental illness currently in jails and prisons and two to four times the people on parole or probation as the people without any mental disorder.
The study assessed the crimes committed by people with the three major mental disorders and placed them into three categories: no relationship to the crime; mostly unrelated to the crime; and related or directly related to the crime.
When the study was complete, researchers found that when combining the latter categories, only 18 percent of the crimes were related to their disorder. The crimes committed by people with bipolar disorder resulted in 62 percent of them being directly or mostly related to their symptoms, with an additional 23 percent to schizophrenia and 15 percent to depression. Peterson also said that the bipolar result may have been inflated due to the fact the some persons may have been on drugs or alcohol.
The participants were mostly male with the average age of 40, were 42 percent white, 42 percent black and 16 percent other races. Of these offenders, 85 percent had substance abuse problems. Crimes of a violent nature were not included in the study, but the participants described other violent crimes they had committed. The study also did not cover how substance abuse interacted with mental illness to influence their behavior.
The researchers suggested that programs should be expanded to help mentally ill people with treatment to include cognitive-behavioral treatment about criminal thinking, anger management and other behavioral issues. Basic needs programs are also essential for offenders after incarceration that include drug treatment, housing and employment, according to Peterson.