New: ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Most Persons with Mental Illness not Violent

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday April 17, 2012 - 07:11:00 AM

Much publicity has been given to the tragic death of Peter Cukor, apparently killed by a disoriented mentally ill man. This is the sort of thing that creates widespread panic of the public and that inspires many citizens to look for legislation that would prevent future tragedies of this kind. Certainly, it is a sad thing that Mr. Cukor was killed in the prime of life, and my heart goes out to his family. 

However, I need to say that this sort of incident is extremely rare. The overwhelming majority of persons who suffer from a mental illness never do harm to anyone. Most of us, at some point, come to the realization that we need to be compliant with treatment if we are to have any kind of tolerable existence. Even among those who are not compliant, very violent actions such as killing someone are uncommon. 

In a group of people with bipolar that I attend, I have sadly heard news of several suicides in the past few years. Unfortunately, sometimes persons with mental illness lose hope and incorrectly believe that suicide is a means of escape. When I was first ill with schizophrenia I experienced suicidal thoughts, and what stopped me from acting on them was the thought of what this would do to my family. 

Most persons with mental illness want the same things in life as people who are not afflicted. Unfortunately, there are numerous barriers to getting these things. Most employers will not hire a person who they know is mentally ill for any kind of responsible position. I read on a website for evil employers, that a lawsuit based on the Americans with Disabilities Act is easy to defeat in court when the plaintiff's disability is psychiatric. 

The attack that tragically killed Peter Cukor may have happened because this poor man, Daniel Dewitt, might have finally lost hope. Putting more restrictions on persons with mental illness as a result of this tragedy may not be the answer. To increase the amount of compliance, we should take steps toward making the lives of persons with mental illness more worthwhile and more meaningful. If there is nothing in life to look forward to, then the result is that despair gets produced. Too much despair can trigger actions which are irreversible and regrettable. Noncompliance with treatment is sometimes an act of despair, and lashing out in violence is an action of extreme despair. 

When someone with mental illness has experienced a couple of psychotic episodes, the ensuing return to treatment and recovery, and has then gone on to do better things in life, it creates a sense of hope. This hopefulness may still exist even if the person becomes ill again because they may know on an instinctive level that even though things are bad now, they will get better. This tends to prevent violence toward oneself and others. Mr. Dewitt may not have had sufficient experience with a previous recovery from psychosis and of then doing better things. But this is pure speculation. 

My point is that this level of violence is the exception rather than the rule. Most persons with mental illness do not hurt people even when psychotic.