Killers, Coo Coo Or Calculating?

Robert David Jaffee, author, journalist, ‘mental health activist’, has written a 2 part series for the Huffington Post that in some ways makes a point that is really too often ignored by the mainstream press. His articles are titled appropriately enough Psychopaths, Not Psychotics, part I and part II. The point he is trying to make in this series is that those people characterized as ‘mentally ill’ don’t tend to be a violent group of people at all. Many of the high profile cases we have seen in the press recently involving people thought to be mentally ill were well thought out, and this fact raises many doubts about the severity and the validity of any such characterization.

He goes so far as to make a humanizing confession at one place in the first article.

I was once diagnosed a schizophrenic, and I have never been a threat to anyone but myself. When I was admitted to the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, now known as the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, in 1999, three burly orderlies came into the room to make sure that I took my medication. Though the orderlies were not there to hurt me, I can imagine that another person in my situation might have felt the need to defend himself. Had such an act of violence taken place, however, it would not have been premeditated.

Wow. Another psychiatric survivor. Just like myself and so many others.

What you don’t get here is how these psychiatric drugs can have toxic damaging effects, and how this fact makes these orderlies attentions a matter of reinforcing that violence on the part of the system that people are so seldom adequately protected from.

Jaffee points to a number of recent high profile multiple murder cases in which the perpetuater bore a psychiatric label, and indicates that in each case we’re dealing with someone who is a psychopath rather than a psychotic.

Lost in all of this is the fact that those who are truly mentally ill commit somewhere in the range of 3 to 4% of violent crime.

He even supplies evidence.

A Department of Justice report determined that those “with a history of mental illness,” but who do not suffer from drug or alcohol disorders, committed only 4.3% of homicides in the U.S. in 1988. A survey published by the National Institute of Mental Health noted that individuals with “severe and persistent mental illness,” but no substance abuse problems, account for no more than 3% of violent crime!

Alright. What’s all the fuss about!?

Part 2. He has a friend who asks if 3% of the violent crime in this country is commited by the mentally ill, how many people have a mental illness.

Here are the statistics. According to the NIMH’s Web site, approximately 6 % of people in this country suffer from “serious” mental illness. And according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Web site, roughly 50% of people with “severe” mental disorders have substance abuse problems.

As you will note, this 50% substance abuse problem is equivalent to the 3% of the mentally ill commiting violent crime. There has been shown to be a relationship between substance abuse and violent crime.

Political reasons, the motivations behind many of the violent crimes attributed to the people he refers to in his article, don’t point to the presence of any mental illness. Reasoning is another one of those skills we tend to think the mentally ill are not particularly adept at performing. Disoriented, confused, and scatter brained thinking doesn’t lend itself to successfully pulling off well thought out and complicated tasks such as multiple murders.

Finally, his second article ends by pointing to the number of particularly intellectually and artistically endowed people who have been labeled seriously mentally ill. Most of these were historically notable people who have been labeled after the fact. Yes, and no. How lucky we are that there were no psychiatrists durring the middleages to lock up Joan of Arc for hearing the voice of God. On the other hand, how unlucky we were to have an inquisition burning people at the stake as heretics and witches. Some of these people being burned at the stake would have been prime targets for today’s psychiatristic couch were they still around. Hmmm. What about the Mccarthy era, and the Hollywood blacklists? Maybe there’s a relationship between power and psychiatric labeling here that we need to scrutinize a little closer. I think so anyway.