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A facebook friend who also lives with chronic depression asked how people felt about the media’s

indiscriminate use of the words crazy and psychotic to describe alleged Arizona assassin. This is my response:

Crazy does not bother me, as it could be an umbrella term for anything not typical, and I don’t consider it diagnostic,
just descriptive. Psychotic, on the other hand, IS a diagnostic term, and should not be tossed around by people who
may not know what they are saying.

However, 61% of Americans BELIEVE that most violent criminals suffer from mental illness (National Mental
Health Association, 2003), thanks to media reports like this those concerning the Arizona rampage shooting, as well
as depictions of “crazed” killers in movies, books, etc. This belief is not actually borne out by research and is
probably just people’s way of comforting themselves in the face of something terrifying.

Some facts:

• “Research has shown that the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses”
(American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

• “Clearly, mental health status makes at best a trivial contribution to the overall level of violence in society”
(Monahan, John, 1992).

• “. . . [T]he absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is still very small and . . . only a
small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill” (Mulvey,

• “Most people who suffer from a mental disorder are not violent — there is no need to fear them. Embrace
them for who they are—normal human beings experiencing a difficult time, who need your open mind,
caring attitude, and helpful support” (Grohol, 1998).

• “Compared with the risk associated with the combination of male gender, young age, and lower
socioeconomic status, the risk of violence presented by mental disorder is modest” (Policy Research
Associates, December 1994.

In fact, people with psychiatric disabilities are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime
(Appleby et al., 2001):

“A new study by researchers at North Carolina State University and Duke University has found that people
with severe mental illness—schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis—are 2½ times more likely to be
attacked, raped or mugged than the general population.” Claudine Chamberlain, “Victims, Not Violent:
Mentally Ill Attacked at a Higher Rate,” ABC New.


Hiday, V.A., Swanson, J.W., Swartz, Borum, R., & Wagner, H.R. (2001). Victimization: A link between mental
illness and violence? International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 24: 559–572.

Hiday, V.A., M.S. Swartz, J.W. Swanson, R. Borum and H.R. Wagner (1998). Male and female differences in the
setting and consruction of violence among people with severe mental illness. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric
Epidemiology, 33: 68–74.

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2008). Violence and mental illness: The
facts. Downloaded January 10, 2011, from