The relationship between mental illness and criminal behavior has been a hotly debated topic in recent years, particularly after several mass shootings in the United States. However, researchers say people with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of a violent crime and not the perpetrator.

While focusing on the importance of mental health in the aftermath of multiple tragedies is seen as a positive development, experts say it feeds into a widespread belief that people with mental illness are more likely to commit violent acts. It’s a bias that they say extends to the justice system.

Few American families are unaffected by mental illness

Many people feel that mental illness is something that happens to other people. However, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, says one out of every four people in the U.S. is directly or indirectly affected by mental illness. The agency emphasizes how widespread mental illness is in our society:

  • Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression and obsessive-compulsion disorder are four of the top 10 causes of disability
  • 3% of Americans suffer from more than one mental illness
  • Serious mental illnesses prevent 5% of all adults from functioning in society
  • Nearly 20% of all doctor visits in the U.S. are for anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks
  • 8 million people suffer from depression
  • 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with schizophrenia disorders each year

Lack of adequate care has contributed to unnecessary incarcerations

The NCBI says people with mental illness are disproportionately imprisoned compared to others, mainly because of a lack of resources and awareness about their conditions. These individuals are arrested for petty crimes, such as jaywalking or trespassing and thrown in jail for being a nuisance.

Studies show up to a third of jail inmates with prior arrests had been treated for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or other conditions. The NCBI says the closing of psychiatric facilities starting in the 1960s, as well as budget cutbacks by federal, state and local governments for mental health care, all contribute to the problem.

Certain conditions can lead to criminal behavior

The one area where researchers agree with public perceptions over mental illness and crime is that people with certain psychiatric disorders may be more prone to violence if their condition is left untreated. However, they say the most significant risk for these individuals is drug abuse. If you or someone you know suffers from a mental illness and has been wrongly charged with a crime, an experienced and compassionate criminal defense attorney here in Texas will protect your rights.