Public fears of violence on the street by discharged (mental) patients who are strangers to them is misdirected. The people at the highest risk are family members and friends who are in their homes or in the patient’s home.
(6-23-16) In a study released this week, the Treatment Advocacy Center investigates a subject few like to discuss: family violence, specifically homicides committed by persons with mental illnesses.
Because of stigma, we always begin every conversation about violence by explaining that individuals with mental illnesses are no more violent than the general public and, in fact, are more likely to become victims than perpetuators.
And that is exactly how the authors of RAISING CAIN: The Role of Serious Mental Illness In Homicide begin their 48 page study.
But they quickly explain their rational in writing about murders committed by persons with mental disorders:
It is…politically incorrect to study the relationship of family homicides to serious mental illness, especially in the United States, where the concept of “recovery” is the dominant theme in writing about individuals with mental illness. (But) …it is not discourse about family violence and homicides that is a major cause of stigma against all people with mental illness; rather, it is the family violence and homicides themselves. Until we confront the causes of family violence and homicides directly, the stigmatization of persons with serious mental illness will continue to be an enormous problem. Yet, to ignore that a small percentage of persons with mental illness can be violent seems disingenuous.
This reasoning should not surprise anyone who is familiar with TAC, which is one of a few advocacy groups that speaks openly about violence. What did the authors of the report find:
To summarize it briefly:
This is the first study of the role of serious mental illness in all family homicides. There are approximately 4,000 family homicides in the United States each year. Individuals with serious mental illness are responsible for 29% of these, or approximately 1,150 homicides. This is 7% of all homicides in the U.S.
The role of serious mental illness varies depending on the family relationships. Approximately 67% of children who kill their parents are seriously mentally ill. Only 10% of spouses who kill their spouses are mentally ill.
Although total homicides have decreased markedly in the U.S. in recent years, there has been no decrease in the number of children killing parents or parents killing children, the two types of family homicides most closely associated with serious mental illness.
Women are responsible for 11% of all homicides in the US but 26% of family homicides.
Elderly family members, especially women, are disproportionately victimized. Among all homicides in the U.S. only 2.2% of victims are ages 75 and older. In a media sample of 2015 family homicides, 9.2% of the victims were age 75 and older.
Guns are used as the weapon in less than half of family homicides.
The failure of individuals with serious mental illness to take their medication and their abuse of alcohol and drugs are risk factors for family homicides.
The majority of family homicides are preceded by warnings and threats that are often ignored. The adequate treatment of individuals with serious mental illness would prevent the majority of family homicides associated with serious mental illness.