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Think about the most recent horrific crimes in the United States, such as the mass shootings at Fort Hood and Sandy Hook Elementary School. Almost immediately after the incidents, news reports started pouring in linking mental illness to the shooters.
However, a new study completed by the American Psychological Association states that criminals who suffer from mental illnesses don’t usually commit crimes because of their symptoms.
The study included 143 offenders with mental illness who in total committed 429 crimes. Researchers used record reviews and in-depth interviews to determine whether or not crimes were caused as a result of experiencing mental illness symptoms.
Researchers found that only in rare cases were crimes motivated directly by mental illness symptoms, and there were different levels of involvement between crime and mental illness.
For example, in some cases the crimes were mostly unrelated to symptoms, but in other cases crimes were directly related.
Overall, only 7.5 percent of all crimes were committed as a direct result of symptoms.
Four percent of crimes were related directly to symptoms of “psychosis” or schizophrenia spectrum disorders, 3 percent for depression, and 10 percent for bipolar disorder. The 7.5 percent figure increased to 18 percent when crimes both “directly related” and “mostly related” to mental illness symptoms were included.
Most offenders committed at least one crime independent of mental illness symptoms as well.
Researchers concluded that programs to reduce repeated crimes by offenders may need to be altered for offenders with mental illnesses.
Programs need to include treatments and services that are known to help people without mental illnesses as well, since many crimes are motivated by other factors, such as unemployment and substance abuse.
Frank Bevacqua, a psychologist, said in an email that although the study demonstrates that many crimes occur not as a direct result of mental illness symptoms, the crimes that do occur as a direct result of symptoms get more attention because they are seen as more preventable.