I’m going to take a stab at it

Hey guys, this will be only blog post for the next few weeks, as on Saturday I am going to South Africa for about sixteen days. I will hopefully return with some really interesting things to talk about, including the African bush and safari, whale watching, shark cages, potentially a bungee jump or a sky dive, and Cape Town.

But first…

One well accepted view is that mental disorder predisposes crime, as seen the public perceptions that mentally ill individuals are violent and in media portrays of mental illness. So today I want to discuss this.

It is thought that 16-64% of prisoners suffer with a mental disorder, compared to 23% of the general population. From this figure alone, it would be easy to say that there is a clear link between mental disorder and crime. But, this is not the whole story…

blog 9 5.jpg

Let’s look at a study on mental illness and crime:

Baillargeon, Binswanger, Penn, Williams & Murray, 2009) examined a sample of 71,333 inmates in the US and found that 7,878(11%) had either major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or a non-schizophrenic psychotic disorder. While this percentage could be considered low, it might suggest there is a small relationship between these disorders and crime. Or that’s what you might think…

But this study fails to acknowledge third variable effects. A third variable is something that affects the relationship between two things. For example: there may be a relationship between heavy drinking and sex. This might lead people to think that drinking causes sex. However, it might be that those who drink heavily are just more sexually promiscuous. Basically, there is more than two factors in a relationship.

In the case of crime and mental illness, it could be that mentally disorder individuals are more vulnerable to arrest or injustice, leading to high levels of mentally disordered offenders.

blog 9 4There are other important factors such as gender, substance abuse and socio-economic background of the individual. Fazel and Seewald (2012) examined the prevalence of psychosis and major depression in 33,588 prisoners from 24 countries. The prevalence of psychosis was 3.6-3.9%, and the rate of depression was 10.2-14.2% in male and female prisoners respectively. Interestingly, there was a higher prevalence of psychosis in low and middle-income countries compared to high-income ones. Fazel and Seewald (2012) suggested there may be a stronger relationship between mental illness and criminality within these countries due to socio-cultural factors, resulting in an increased number of mentally disordered offenders. For example, mentally ill individuals may receive poorer legal representation in these countries.

Another way to consider this argument is to look at how flawed this area of research is in general. Which makes it pretty much impossible to tell if A (mental illness) leads to B (crime). Publication bias is when non-significant results are not published. So if a study finds that alcohol doesn’t lead to kidney problems, it won’t be published, because it doesn’t show the ‘right’ results for the media and for the medical/psychological community, even if it is in fact true. Although I’m pretty certain excessive alcohol will damage your kidneys, so be careful – get watered not slaughtered!

blog 9 3.jpgThis means that any research that finds no link between mental illness and crime, isn’t published, and is left at the ‘bottom of the drawer’. There could be thousands of these papers, that go unpublished, and suggest that crime and mental illness are not linked! Furthermore, those with a mental disorder are 6-23 times more likely to become a victim of violent crime, than the general population!

blog 9 1What I am saying is that, all this talk we have about labelling murderers or terrorists or whomever as ‘psycho’ or ‘mental’ is dangerous, and frankly, untrue. Mentally ill individuals can commit crime, but not all mentally disordered individuals do commit crime. Anyone can commit crime, but not everyone does. We should not be scared of those with mental illness. And neither should we label those who commit crime as mentally ill, because it’s not necessarily true.

I’m going to leave you with some shocking figures:

1/3 female students suffer from mental health issues.

In 2013, 6233 suicides were recorded in the UK for people ages 15 and older. Of these 78% were male, and 22% of these were female

10% of mothers and 6% of fathers have a mental health problem at any given time.

It is estimated that ¼ of us (25%) will experience mental health problems in one given year.

Mental illness is a medical illness

Love Em x


Interesting articles and figures:






My references:

Baillargeon, J., Binswanger, I. A., Penn, J. V., Williams, B. A., & Murray, O. J. (2009). Psychiatric disorders and repeat incarcerations: The revolving prison door. American Journal of Psychiatry, 166(1), 103-109

Fazel, S., & Seewald, K. (2012). Severe mental illness in 33 588 prisoners worldwide: systematic review and meta-regression analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 200(5), 364-373. Doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.111.096370

Rothstein, H. R., Sutton, A. J., & Borenstein, M. (Eds.). (2006). Publication bias in meta-analysis: Prevention, assessment and adjustments. John Wiley & Sons.

Taylor, P. A. & Gunn, J. (1999). Homicides by people with mental illness: myth and reality. British Journal of Psychiatry, 174(1), 9-14.

Teplin, L. A., McClelland, G. M., Abram, K. M., & Weiner, D. A. (2005). Crime victimization in adults with severe mental illness: comparison with the national crime victimization survey. Archives of general psychiatry, 62(8), 911-921


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