Mental illness not the cause of mass murders
23 May 2016
Most violent people don’t have a mental illness, say Australian psychiatrists.
While mass murderers are often presumed to suffer from psychosis, there is no evidence that clearly verifies they are psychotic, or even suffering from severe mental illness, argue Dr Michael Dudley and colleagues.
Instead, they are often indistinguishable within the general public and are more likely to have maladaptive personality configurations that manifest as paranoia, sadism, narcissism or antisocialness.
“Individuals who do not have a mental illness perpetrate more than 95% of gun homicides,” they note.
This flies in the face of gun lobby claims that mental illness underpins gun violence and should be a key site for intervention.
The researchers, who examined how national firearms regulation has prevented injury in the 20 years since the Port Arthur massacre, argue that screening mentally ill people for violence risk is misguided because they are not “categorically dangerous”.
And they suggest that focusing the gun debate on mental illness rather than gun availability in general "should be exposed as a calculated appeal to prejudice”.
“Media portrayal of violence by people with a mental illness reinforces public perception of their dangerousness, further stigmatising and endangering them,” they write in the MJA.
They point to the case of Martin Bryant whose trial judge, relying on four forensic psychiatrists’ reports, noted Bryant was not suffering from mental illness but a personality disorder with limited intellectual and empathetic capacities.
“Psychiatrists are no better than laypeople or chance at predicting who will be a mass murderer,” they say.