After a violent incident we regularly engage in a discussion about mental health. Mental health is often discussed on the media afterward, as if a mental health condition has caused the violence. On the contrary, persons who are suffering from a mental health condition are frequently more introverted and are more likely to negative self-coping skills (i.e. drug use, self-harm, avoid interactions, etc.) than they are to be violent.
Although not every mental health condition has the same symptoms, the symptoms are often correlated with "suffering." Whether it's panic attacks, depleted feelings, ongoing negative thoughts, etc. many persons with a mental health conditions tend to turn inward to cope. Oftentimes, people will seek substances or medication in hopes of reducing their symptoms. They may also seek assistance in mental health resources, friends, and/or family. Frequently, persons with mental illness may seek time alone, often feeling that being in public is too much for them to handle in longer duration.
There is no diagnosis in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) that causes violence. Therefore, mental health conditions don't cause violence. Violence is not a symptom, like anxiety, recurring thoughts, sleep disturbances, depressive thoughts, etc. would be. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)*, acts of violence are more likely to be caused by someone with mental illness when resources are not available to them. One could argue that it's more likely to be the level of suffering that may lead to a violent act, not the diagnosis iteself. Many persons with ongoing mental health concerns do not seek services (more likely if they are unaware of their need) or are unable to continue the services necessary to assist them (often associated with lacking resources).
Important resources include:
-Early identification and intervention services
-Education on warning signs
-Family support and training
-Treatment and support by appropriate mental health team members
When people have early resources and better support, violence is less likely. Instead of trying to assign blame to persons who have difficulty managing their symptoms, let's provide help to anyone who asks or needs it. Let's hope that by working together we can end or at least reduce violent acts.
Warning signs include but are not limited to:
-Drastic changes in mood or sleeping patterns
-Negative connotations about specific people or groups
-Feeling left out or lonely
-Lacking social groups
-Access to guns or other weapons
-Feelings of hopelessness
-Fixation on prior violent crimes
-Inappropriate or negative family circle
-Out of touch with reality
For more information, or if you have concerns about yourself or someone you care about, please contact your local mental health services. NAMI has a help line at 1-800-950-6264.
In the cases of an emergency, please contact 911.
Megan Bowling, M.A., LMFT