Comment: Myths and misunderstanding about mental illness and violence

Marjorie Wallace

Marjorie Wallace - Credit: Archant

Marjorie Wallace CBE, founder and chief executive of mental health charity SANE, comments on the link between mental illness and violence.

There are many myths and misunderstandings about the connection between mental illness and violence.

The truth is the majority of people with mental illness are never violent and the chances of being attacked by a mentally ill stranger, as was the case with Dr Douglas Hutchison, are remote. They are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.

There are about 10 stranger homicides by a person with mental illness each year. Our own research shows that many could have been prevented had psychiatric and social services, the police and other agencies communicated effectively, taken the risk a person posed more seriously and responded to the pleas for help from both patients and their families.

Such tragedies inevitably hit the headlines. In some cases, a patient may stop taking their medication and take illegal drugs which can fuel symptoms – such as persecutory voices telling them, for example, that they have a mission to kill.

It is only by being alert to warning signs, intervening early and providing consistent psychiatric care wherever possible that we can prevent the terrible outcomes which not only damage those directly involved but unfairly stigmatise everyone with mental illness.