Violence and Mental Illness Are Separate Phenomena

Daniel Lende has been doing a fabulous job of discussing the difference between mental illness and the propensity to be violent. Lende writes (italics mine):

It would be easy to conclude that politics have nothing to do with what he did. This view is wrong. What Jared Loughner did was inherently political, even if not within the realm of “politics as usual,” of fights between Democrats and Republicans…
Loughner attacked a politician at a political event. He targeted a woman, the youngest woman elected to congress, the first attempt to assassinate a woman politician at the highest levels in the United States. Moreover, he aimed to sow chaos with his acts – several friends have confirmed how he reveled in this sort of act.
He also had political axes to grind; they’re just not mainstream ones. Loughner wants to see the US return to the gold standard. He advocates for a focus on the US Constitution rather than current federal laws. He worries about mind control by the US government, particularly through language.

Lende argues that violence, political or otherwise, should be viewed as a public health problem:

I’ll make two modest proposals – (1) understanding violence as a public health problem is an important addition to policing and psychiatric services, and (2) we need ways to understand Loughner’s behavior that stretch from mental states to social life, from our brains to our culture.
People who deal with violence on a regular basis, who search for solutions beyond punishment and treatment, have settled on a broad public health approach that relies on a mix of community interventions, social work, anthropological insight, and other factors.
The Loughner case can be understood as an excellent example of a main epidemiological insight – the greater the number of risk factors, generally the worse the outcome. Social isolation, loss of schooling, difficult parental relations, an aggressive father, a lack of mental coherence, social outbursts, alcohol and drug use, and run-ins with law enforcement are all factors that appear in the Loughner case.
To address these complexities, you need a comprehensive approach.

A failure to recognize violence as its own public health problem separate from mental illness prevents us from tackling both problems. In my daily life, I encounter people who are not mentally stable: anyone who rides the T or lives in a major urban area does, unfortunately. Most of them are harmless. They might be annoying, or embarrassing, but they’re not dangerous. At the same time, someone at a political rally holding a sign that reads “We came unarmed this time” probably isn’t mentally ill in a clinical sense (even if in a colloquial sense, she’s fucking nuts). But the threat of violence, the willingness to publicly proclaim that threat in response to a political setback in a democratic system, those are threatening. Those are actionable:

But it is what the research shows us.

No profile, no type of person, can fit all the attackers, and any profile would include far too many people who are not dangerous, the researchers found…
The Secret Service did find that the attackers shared behaviors in common. The researchers are saying there is not a type of person, but there is a type of action, such as acquiring a weapon, and communicating their intentions (though not a threat) to others.

In other words, what people do matters.

The problem is violence per se, and the advocacy of it, not mental illness. Believing in the false notion of the redemptive power of violence, or that violence is an appropriate substitute for maturity are as much to blame, if not more, than mental illness.

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18 Responses to Violence and Mental Illness Are Separate Phenomena

  1. Sam C says:

    Believing in the false notion of the redemptive power of violence, or that violence is an appropriate substitute for maturity…

    I think you have just defined The American Way as seen by outsiders. Unfortunately the US culture includes many people who are very scared of all sorts of things that are “other” – other races, other religions, other nations, other social groups, other political views. Doubly unfortunately many of those have also had the culture of violence indoctrinated into them and the American fetish for guns (in other countries people have guns to hunt or for self-defense, but they don’t drool over them in the same way as American gun nuts).
    Fear, ignorance and violence are an unhealthy cocktail.
    And those three words almost define the Tea Party.

  2. A little common sense says:

    Fear, ignorance and violence are an unhealthy cocktail.
    And those three words almost define the Tea Party.

    This is one of the most ignorant and bigoted remarks yet posted on this site.

  3. nichole says:

    One of the Tea Party’s values is the right to bear arms, right?
    So you guys are cool with Arizona’s concealed carry law, allowing anyone over 21 to carry – without a permit – a semi-automatic, high-capacity handgun in a mall?
    And everyone’s just supposed to quietly reap what you sowed? Calling you out on the consequences of your values is “ignorant and bigoted”?

  4. NJ says:

    A little common Sense @ 2:

    This is one of the most ignorant and bigoted accurate remarks yet posted on this site.

    Fixed it for you.

  5. A little common sense says:

    Fixed it for you.

    Let’s see, the charge of racial epithets shouted at a black Congressman: false. (But reported as fact by the media).
    The charge of spitting on a black Congressman: false. (But reported as fact by the media).
    The charge of inciting violence: false. (That wasn’t the TEA Parties, that was the SEIU, a.k.a. Obama’s Brown Shirts).
    The charge of threatening voters at the polls: False. (That wasn’t the TEA Parties, that was the New Black Panthers).
    The charge of locking citizens out of the town hall meetings: false. (That wasn’t the TEA Parties. That was the Democrats).
    You want Fear, ignorance and violence, NJ? Run and look in your mirror.

  6. tom says:

    Well, I have to agree with the basic premise of this since liberalism is a proven mental disorder and liberals are a very hateful and violent group of people. Too bad the writer goes in the wrong direction simply out of biased ignorance.

  7. scott says:

    Wow! I can’t believe Tea party apologist are roaming the science blogs.
    I want to call Poe’s law on #5 and #6, but I think they really believe what they’re saying.

  8. darwinsdog says:

    If Curly Bill Brocius or Johnny Ringo or Doc Holliday had been the would-be killer, instead of some nervous kid, that congresswoman would be dead now. They just don’t make Arizonans like they used to.

  9. NJ says:

    ALSC @ 5:

    Let’s see, the charge of racial epithets shouted at a black Congressman: false.

    …and the black congressman in question says otherwise.

    The charge of inciting violence: false.

    …and the photo (not the video) on this page? isn’t an attempt at intimidation?

    the New Black Panthers

    …and two guys near a polling place is a major scandal?
    The problem you (and your buddy in #6) have is called projection. You accurately interpret the actions of your preferred tribal group, but the project them onto people who aren’t part of your tribal group.
    Feel free to Google any of those concepts you don’t understand.

  10. I. Snarlalot says:

    “Wow! I can’t believe Tea party apologist are roaming the science blogs.”
    Well, it’s not like they have anything useful to do with their time.
    Interestingly, not too long ago these people would have been arguing that their tea bag party was made up of disaffected people from across the political spectrum (more like a bag of mixed nuts than tea). Given the muddled, antigovernment nihilism of their rantings, it’s plain what element they’ve been attempting to draw in.

  11. A little common sense says:

    The charge of inciting violence: false.

    …and the photo (not the video) on this page? isn’t an attempt at intimidation?

    And you don’t know the difference between “inciting violence” and “intimidation.”
    For the record, intimidation is what your two New Black Panthers were doing with their billy clubs and silly-assed berets.

    …two guys near a polling place is a major scandal?

    How many does it take, liberal apologist? Two guys in paramilitary uniforms, carrying clubs, blocking people trying to enter the polls is two too many.

    Wow! I can’t believe Tea party apologist [sic] are roaming the science blogs.

    Apologists? No one is apologizing for the Tea Parties. We’re simply saying that you guys are telling lies. You’re full of crap.
    YouTube has many videos of Democrats pushing people out of town meetings, Black Panthers carrying clubs at voting polls, and SEIU thugs starting fights and actually striking people.
    You don’t find any of the Tea Parties doing this kind of thing because if they did you know damned well that the left-wing, communist media would never let it go.
    And that black Congressman is apparently the only one at that photo op who saw or heard anything. Just like the D.C. city employees who spread the rumor and smeared a mayor’s aide for using the word niggardly.

    By Yolanda Woodlee
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 27, 1999

    The director of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams’s constituent services office resigned after being accused of using a racial slur, the mayor’s office said yesterday.
    David Howard, head of the Office of Public Advocate, said he used the word “niggardly” in a Jan. 15 conversation about funding with two employees.

    There’s ignorance for you. Just some more liberal name-calling, race-baiting, and fault-finding. Getting in practice to smear the Tea Parties.
    See, what you guys have done is to create your own little fantasy, your little dream castle where the Tea Parties are violent, racist, and ignorant. Then you moved into your fantasies and setup housekeeping there.

  12. A little common sense says:

    Originally posted by A little common senseThe charge of inciting violence: false.

    Inane reply posted by NJ…and the photo (not the video) on this page? isn’t an attempt at intimidation?

    The picture that NJ wanted us to see was supposedly of a Tea Party demonstrator carrying a sign that read, “We came unarmed (This time)”
    Compare that to these signs carried by “peaceful” liberal demonstrators.
    They sure aren’t Tea Party members.

  13. Drinks my own tea now says:

    Look, you pitiful Thomas Paine wannabe. I live in Ron Paul territory and I voted for him. I used to be in the Tea Party (and it was the Tea party, not the TEA party until later), and so was my brother. We went to a rally expecting like-minded people talking about freedoms and human rights and the right to keep more of what you earned; a better society on broadly libertarian principles. What we found was a bunch of radical gun nuts, religionistas, and ignoramuses who were quite willing to curtail people’s rights so long as they had the “freedom” to say which rights got curtailed.
    We went to a second rally, hoping the first one was a fluke. It wasn’t. My brother’s teenage kids asked us awkward questions about why we were going to rallies with people who seemed to have every agenda but that of actual liberty. We had to explain to them that liberty meant, to them, the liberty to do only what THEY approved of doing.
    Now my brother is religious and a libertarian, anti-abortion-rights, pro-gun, and a fan of conservative commentators on TV, but he can’t stomach the Tea Party anymore. Part of the reason is their attitude toward immigration. We are children of immigrants and his wife is a Mexican immigrant. As an advocate of social freedoms myself, and a world traveler for business, I am a gun owner and pro-business, but I find myself turning more and more to the reasonable society of the middle right as exemplified by the average, say, British citizen, who believes generally in live-and-let-live and helping the other guy when he’s down.
    It’s really a question of thinking of the good of society as well as what’s good for your own grabby self. Grow up, wake up, and join the rest of the people trying to make a decent, livable society, won’t you?

  14. Drinks my own tea now says:

    In case the above was too long, hard, and rational for you: You don’t get to embrace every violent and intolerant principle and then, when confronted, claim your confronters are against decency and freedom.

  15. A little common sense says:

    Reply to Drinks his own bath water now.
    I have no doubt that you are accurate in your assessment of the Tea Party that you have seen. Now here’s the one I’ve seen. I’ve attended several rallies in Nashville. The majority of the people there were average, middle-class and blue-collar. Almost all of them were employed or retired. All of them that I spoke with were self-supporting.
    The most prevalent signs were about taxes, but abortion, religion, gun control, and immigration were also covered. At one rally, there were a total of 82 people; 12 of them (15%) were black. If you know your demographics, you will also know that Tennessee is about 17% black.
    I did not notice any obviously Hispanic members, but Tim, an (American) Indian friend of mine, was there.
    Conclusion: the Tea Party in Nashville represents the average citizen, black, white, and other.
    Since you are in Texas, I have no doubt you would find many there more than a little upset about immigration. Here in Tennessee the illegal alien problem is severe enough to be felt by everyone; I can imagine what you are going through there. However, the fact remains that there are federal laws about immigration, and these laws are not being enforced by the federal government.
    For what it’s worth, immigration (“establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization” Article 1, Section 8) is one of the enumerated powers in the Constitution. It is ironic that the federal government ignores one of the powers it’s charged to fulfill, but assumes so many that it is not.
    I find it curious that you would cite the average British subject (not citizen, by the way) as your exemplar. The Brits I know (and have known for decades) view their nation’s social programs as both an annoyance and ineffective.
    The British are working on a complete overhaul of their socialized medicine program, did you know? It’s not working, you see.
    And yes, the average Brit will give his friend a helping hand, but that doesn’t mean that he wants the Crown to cut off his hand and give it for him.
    If I had my druthers, I would emulate the average German citizen (excluding former East German socialist drones) who value hard work and frugality, voluntarily conform to society’s standards and mores, and have a healthy distrust of government despite the apparent contradiction that they still respect it. Also despite their rather unfortunate national history of intolerance.
    Now, in reply to your second posting, you arrogant SOB, I do not wish to embrace any intolerance or violence except for the fact that I do not suffer fools like you gladly and I will resist if someone tries to force me to do something I do not think is right and proper.
    Got that? Understand? Is that simple enough for you?
    Good. Now try to understand that not everyone is as intelligent, experienced, or educated as you think you are. However, those that are not still don’t like to be pushed around. Not by their government, not by people who think they are superior, not by anyone.
    Greta Garbo once said, “I want to be let alone.” (She’s been misquoted since). That’s pretty much what the Tea Party wants from the federal government: let us alone.
    And by the way, please note the distinction between federal government and every other government in the USA.

  16. Drinks my own tea now says:

    I wish the federal government would let you alone. Totally alone. I wish you could suffer the consequences as well. I wish that you would, in turn, leave the people alone who are trying to construct a society based on decency and mutual cooperation. We don’t need the likes of you.

  17. darwinsdog says:

    LOL “The Tea Party.” Whenever I hear that phrase I get this image of a bunch of little old ladies sitting around sipping tea out of dainty little cups with their pinkies sticking out. That’s about how intimidating these Tea Partiers strike me as being, anyhow. I’d join a Whiskey Party, though. The wusses can keep their damn tea.
    I live in New Mexico. I like Mexican nationals and wish the border was as open as it was in the days of my youth, when we used to drive down to Las Palomas from Silver City, or to Naco from Bisbee, AZ., to party. I welcome Mexicans to the state. It’s Texans, Californians, Easterners & Midwesterners I wish we could seal our borders against.
    As for reproductive rights, I’m against them. I think that abortion should be mandatory for “Mama Grizzlies.” I support the Second Amendment, too. I live right below an airport and think it’s unconstitutional for my right to bear surface-to-air missiles to be infringed. Especially in summer when the windows are open. Keep your damn aircraft noise out of my ears or have a SAM rammed up your.. exhaust. Second Amendment says so.
    “.. voluntarily conform to society’s standards and mores..”?? Are you kidding? If I voluntarily conformed to an insane society’s standards and mores I’d be volunteering for insanity. I’d rather voluntarily subvert society’s standards and mores. It’s more fun that way, and you get to keep your self-respect.

  18. Tony Oliver says:

    In my view, both are different completely different. Mental illness is different thing and being violent is different. Mental illness is a disease which needs to be cured by counseling and proper medication. While being violent is the result of environment surrounding you.

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