A new study published in the American Psychological Association journal Law and Human Behavior has found that contrary to popular belief, crime may not be linked to mental illness.
When analyzing crimes committed by offenders suffering from a serious mental disorder, only 7.5 percent of those crimes were related to the symptoms of the perpetrator’s illness.
The study analyzed 429 crimes committed 143 former defendants of a mental health court located in Minneapolis, MN. These offenders suffered from three major types of mental illness: major depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
When the crimes were examined in depth, researchers found that only three percent of the crimes committed were directly related to symptoms of the patient’s illness. Furthermore, the study couldn’t find any predictable patterns that linked mental illness to criminal conduct over time.
This is surprising, considering that there are 1.2 million According to lead researcher Jillian Peterson, PhD., this is because when the public hears about crimes committed by offenders suffering from mental illness, the crimes tend to be bigger. These crimes are more likely to catch the attention of newspapers, and tend to stand out more in the public’s mind. “The fast majority of people with mental illness are not violent,” Peterson states.
In fact, many of the offenders who had committed crimes related to their illness had also committed crimes that could not be linked to their symptoms. These previous crimes were often related to other factors such as poverty, homelessness, or unemployment.
When reviewing the offender’s criminal history and social worker case files, crimes could be rates as: no relationship, mostly unrelated, mostly related, or directly related to the symptoms of mental illness.
When combining crimes that were directly and mostly related to the symptoms of schizophrenia (delusions, hallucinations), bipolar disorder (risk-taking behavior, impulsiveness), and depression (suicidal thoughts, hopelessness), the percentage of crimes attributed to the offender’s symptoms increased to 18 percent. Bipolar disorder seemed to have the most impact on criminal behavior, with 62 percent of the crimes being related to the offender’s symptoms. In offenders with schizophrenia, 23 percent of the crimes were related, and in depression 15 percent.
The researchers hope that this will encourage facilities focused on treatments to reduce recidivism will expand their efforts beyond treating the mental health issue, and include treatment in criminal thinking. Programs focused on cognitive behavioral therapy and anger management may also help in addition to mental health treatments.
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