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Posted by admin at November 23, 2014

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The Link between Mental Illness and Violent Offending

In many cases, mental illness has been associated with violence and crime. Several studies have identified a link between mental illness and violence. The justifiability of this link, however, has been under heated debate among scholars and even psychiatrists. The question of what really makes mentally disturbed people at such a high risk of violent offending has elicited deeper probe into other factors that may contribute to a person’s behavior. These factors are both personal and environmental; thus, the level of the probability to be at a risk of violent offending of a mentally ill person is determined by other social factors. Primarily though, it has been established that the sole state of having a mental illness contributes a lot to violent offending. While it is possible to treat major psychoses like schizophrenia using traditional treatment methods, other factors such as Neuro-cognitive impairment, personality disorders and substance abuse are not responsive to the procedural mental health treatment. This paper seeks to explore on whether “people with mental health problems are at increased risk of violent offending”

Research that was done in the recent past shows a definite link between mental illness and criminal activity. According to a particular research conducted on the United States incarceration system, there is a prevalence of many criminal offenders being diagnosed with various types of mental disorder. Even though not all people with mental disorders are at a risk of violent offending, particular types of mental illnesses are predictive violent actions. According to this research, the factors that relate to mental illnesses are responsible for criminal behavior. If these conditions could be maintained, then the criminal justice system will deal with a reduced number of offenses committed by mentally disturbed criminals. The study also reveals that serious problems may arise that hinder full execution of justice. In this case, individuals who may be schizophrenic are capable of killing, yet they cannot be equated to rational killers. Hence, it is important to address other factors that relate to mental illness (Markowitz, 2011).

According to another research, serious mental illnesses are associated more with crime. In the general population, statistics shows that the percentage of persons who are victims of serious mental illness is relatively lower compared to their percentage in provincial and federal institutions. However, increased likelihood of violent offending is associated more with mental illness where other factors contribute (Treloar, 2010). Such factors may include earlier life experiences and current lifestyle. For instance, if one was brought up in abusive family’s chances of associating with violent offending are high compared to those children who have grown up in peaceable, loving families.

Moreover, other studies have also established that there are many cases of antisocial personality disorder in many correctional facilities. Various psychiatrists have established that this case can be explained by learning the nature of those suffering from antisocial personality disorder. These individuals do not conform to social values and norms and thus do not find any difficulty in breaking for them. In this condition, deceitfulness, aggressiveness, irritability and impulsivity is the norm. In many cases, those individuals suffering from antisocial personality disorder resist arrest in a situation where they have to be convicted (Anderson, 1997).

Much focus on the criminal justice system is on those individuals suffering from schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis. Other forms of mental disorder such as post traumatic stress disorder can be easily controlled. Several studies also reveal that there is an undeniable link between violent offending with prior victimization of those suffering from mental illness. As such, these individuals are likely to be the victims and hence have to find a way to survive. Some engage in substance abuse in an effort to cover their vulnerability. This is due to the state of their mental health. In fact, in this argument, it is more likely that people who are mentally disturbed often end up as victims of either non-violent or violent crimes. In other cases, these individuals become victims of both. This study establishes that the fact that people with mental illness end up as victims of crime is the main reason they are at a risk of violent offending (Brink, Doherty & Boer, 2001).
In a research done on the frequency of offending, it was found out that those people with psychiatric disorders alone did not contribute significantly to increased rate of crime. As a matter of fact, substance abusers were likely to contribute more to the increase and repeated offending compared to those people that suffered from psychotic disorders alone. This entailed substance use disorder in cases where there either was or was not a co-occurring psychiatric disorder. In a more detailed account, engagement with psychiatrists in repetitive offending established a common factor in all recurring criminal behavior, despite the mental state. The drive behind recurring criminal behavior is the same in all criminals. This drive is associated with factors such as antisocial associates, personality disorders, neurocognitive impairments and environments (Hodgins, 1992).

Substance abuse, mental disorder and violence are more common in socially disorganized places. Socially disorganized communities are also associated with a high frequency of impaired social support and stressful living conditions. In such communities, those people who are severely mentally disturbed learn the art of violence just as their fellow citizens who do not have any mental illnesses. People who are released from the justice system end up in the same communities where they engaged in violent offending. If these individuals were involved in violent offending of those mentally disturbed, their victims will feel threatened and engage further in violent offenses as a way of protecting themselves. Through this research, it is evident that other factors contribute more to violent crimes other than sole psychiatric disorders. The environment which these mentally disturbed people grow up in, contribute a lot to cases of violent offenses (Engel & Silver, 2001).

Many studies on the relationship between violence and serious mental illness have revealed that even though violent acts committed by mentally disturbed people, are explained more by factors that are predictive of violence as in those people without a mental disorder, there is a one-in-ten chance where the violence is directly linked to their mental disorder. In such situations, mental disorder is in other terms, the reason why these people engage in violent offending. With violence being associated with psychosis, more serious violence has been associated with situations where an individual takes long to receive treatment. The more an individual stays without receiving treatment, the more the treatment will have low levels of efficacy. This virtualy stands as one of the reasons as to why why people are urged to seek immediate treatment if certain symptoms have been identified. In some other cases, this situation becomes unmanageable, and the individual gets out of control (Becker, Constantine, Andel & Boaz, 2011).

The group of offenders with serious mental disorders is relatively small in the society. However, the extreme nature of the crimes such people commit is shocking. People with serious mental illness may be serial killers or terrorists. Even though early treatment is highly recommended, it still remains evident that the identification of these types of criminals prior to the crime is extremely difficult. Some appear to be harmless individuals who are peaceful and sane. The problem with this kind of situation arises when violent crimes are committed during relapse. Some people with mental illnesses secretively go off their medications. At most times, violent offending will occur at moments when symptoms start manifesting.

Convicts with mental illness are also at a high risk of recidivism. A study done on federal prisons in Australia revealed that 1/3 of the prison population were people with mental health prisons. This entailed people who engaged in substance abuse. As in 2010, 31% of prison inmates had been diagnosed with mental health problems. These individuals were also reported to be receiving mental health treatment during their time in prison. Through this study, it is evident that people with mental health problems are associated with continuous crime.

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Several studies have revealed that socioeconomic factors also contribute to the predictability of violence among people with mental disorders. In another study conducted in 2010, it was found that those people who came from poorer backgrounds and were diagnosed with mental illness were more likely to engage in crime compared to those mentally ill individuals who come from relatively well-off backgrounds (Fazel, Singh, Doll & Grann, 2012). This would be explained by the fact that it is more challenging for the poor to access medical care than the rich. It is evident that this factor is not negligible through several findings that prisoners in a poorer state of health were associated with poorer backgrounds. Coupled with socially unstable residences, the probability of engaging in crime would be higher in these prisoners compared to other inmates who committed crime for fun.
After analyzing several studies done on the relationship between violence and mental illness, it is clear that strategic measures need to be put in place to reduce the chances of future crises. Certain strategies must be used so as to ensure that mentally ill offenders are properly managed so as to avoid recidivism. After establishing that there are viable links between violence and mentally ill individuals, it becomes necessary for the criminal justice system to step up; thus ensuring that mentally ill persons are not a threat to the public (Engel & Silver, 2001). According to Croker (2010), the strategies that were needed would be most effective if they targeted criminal behavior instead of primarily targeting mental illness alone. These strategies included those that targeted antisocial behavior and attitude, substance abuse and the offender’s environment. These strategies are considered cognitive-behavioral types of interventions.

It would be equally important to address other factors that have been primarily associated with violent behavior in mentally ill people. It will entail ensuring that the offender’s immediate environment does not elicit violent behavior. This would also mean that the criminal justice system will ensure proper social support for the mentally disturbed people. Reduction of environmental stressors such as victimization, poverty and disorganized neighborhoods will also aid in ensuring that mentally ill people are not in a risk of violent offending. The risk factors are exacerbated when people with mental problems live in socially friendly neighborhoods (Anderson, 1997).

Several evaluations of the impact of providing proper social support and housing to mentally disturbed persons who have encountered the criminal justice system for ten years and above showed that the rate of arrests declined by 75%. This study reveals that necessarily treating mental health problems and ignoring other factors do not prevent people with mental health problems from committing a crime. This strategy is effective since it results in a reduction of costs incurred in the criminal justice system during conviction and the process of sentencing a mentally disturbed convict (Becker, Constantine, Andel & Boaz, 2011). Therefore, interventions aimed primarily at addressing criminality or mental illnesses are not an effective means of reducing the rate of incarceration of people with mental health problems.

The success of interventions in crime associated with mentally ill criminals is also determined by the degree of cooperation from the different service providers. Integrative teams would be more responsible if the members avoided conflict on who was right to make decisions during implementation of the strategies. However, the insistence on other factors apart from mental illness does not mean that it should be ignored (Brink, Doherty & Boer, 2001). On the contrary, early treatment of mental related health problems will reduce the population of mentally ill people whose illness is predictive of violence. Timely treatment and identification of psychosis is extremely important. People with extreme psychotic disorders should be admitted in psychiatric hospitals. Even when they have been incarcerated, such prisoners are supposed to be transferred to psychiatric hospitals.

From the discussion, it beats logic to appreciate that the link between violence and medical illness is real, evident and, therefore, present. Even if not directly related, it is right to argue that mentally ill people are at a high risk of violent offending. People with mental problems constitute a significant number of convicted criminals in many prisons. As such, it is crucial to put in place effective strategies that ensure that these numbers are reduced. It is also evident that people with serious mental illnesses are associated with extremely violent crimes. Therefore, it would do much justice by ensuring that these individulas are locked up in psychiatric hospitals where they can be adequately monitored. Due to the fact that other factors contribute to predictive violent behavior in mentally ill people; therefore, it calls for thorough addresing of these factors, so as to avert future problems. Thus, “people with people with mental health problems are at increased risk of violent offending”.

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