Mental Illness Is Not the Leading Cause of Violence, Study Finds

Last week, a study conducted by Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health found nearly 40 percent of news stories about mental illness connect it to violence.

After the violence in Orlando, Fla. last weekend – the largest mass shooting in the U.S. that left 49 dead, not including the shooter – mental illness has once again, amid rounds of speculation over the shooter’s motives, made headlines for potentially being the cause of a horrifically violent act.

Despite what is often reported in the news, mental illness is not the leading cause of gun violence, the study found.

“Most people with mental illness are not violent toward others,”Emma E. “Beth” McGinty, PhD, MS, an assistant professor in the departments of Health Policy and Management and Mental Health at the Bloomberg School and the study’s lead author said. “Most violence is not caused by mental illness, but you would never know that by looking at media coverage of incidents.”

According to the study, less than five percent of violence in the U.S. is directly related to mental illness. By linking mental illness to violence, these stories create the perception that people with mental illnesses are violent, McGinty said.

One in five Americans lives with a mental illness, an overwhelming majority of whom are not violent.

“Anyone who kills people is not mentally healthy. We can all agree on that. But it’s not necessarily true that they have a diagnosable illness,” McGinty said in the study’s news release. “They may have anger or emotional issues, which can be clinically separate from a diagnosis of mental illness.”

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