Violence and Mental Illness, The Ultimate Scapegoat

Violence and Mental Illness, The Ultimate Scapegoat

Written by Ronald Coulson, Posted on , in Section Turn For The Better

A link to the past.

In a recent article about the Fort Hood Shooting on, they reported that the shooter had psychiatric issues, and that he had a long history of depression and anxiety. Another article found on talks about the soldier having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These are just a few examples from a number of articles that seem to focus on his mental illness, suggesting it was the reason behind what he did.

There have been a number of people, however, who have chosen to speak out against linking PTSD to the tragic shootings in Fort Hood. “There’s a misconception with PTSD that a symptom is anger and violence,” said Dr. Harry Croft, a San Antonio-based psychiatrist and author of the PTSD help book I Always Sit With My Back To The Wall. “The stigma associated with PTSD is tragically worsened with events like this,” Croft said. (

They worry, and rightly so, that it could negatively affect other vets who are also being treated for PTSD. They are concerned it could create an atmosphere of fear. Is this a valid concern? Our society’s perception of mental illness would suggest there is.

Exaggerated Perceptions.

If you take a look at any number of articles, news stories, or movie plots over the years, you’ll start to see a common theme: mental illness and violence. These two have been linked for a very long time, but what if I told you the link isn’t as strong as we are led to believe? Would you be able to accept it? When we are presented with news, or movies, that emphasizes the mental illness as the reason behind the violence, it should be no surprise that people can’t help but perpetuate the idea.

As I have already alluded to, the reality is quite different. Only a very small fraction of those that suffer from mental illness are violent. Statistically speaking, there are studies that have shown that a person with a severe psychiatric disorder, who is taking their medication, are no more dangerous than any other person in our society.

The reason we hear about the violence, is because that is what draws our attention--that is what drives ratings. You are less likely to hear about someone who overcame their struggles with a mental disorder and lives a healthy and normal life.

News worth reporting?

News reports rarely, if ever, touch on the fact that there are other possible factors behind the actions of the person who committed these kind of tragedies. Effectively, we’ve made mental illness a scapegoat--and a dangerous one at that. It is an easy pill for the public to swallow, since mental illnesses can be scary-- especially since we do not always understand them fully. The idea that it could happen to anyone, that none of us are immune, is a frightening thought.


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