Which psychological disorders lead to violent behavior?

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Mental disorders and acts of violence

30.03.2015

Psychologists from the German Society for Psychology (DGPs) provide answers to current questions that are discussed in the social debate about the plane crash. Forensic psychologist Dr. Martin Rettenberger answers questions about the currently discussed connection between mental disorders and the tendency to violent behavior.

Question: Dr. Rettenberger, as a forensic psychologist, you deal with acts of violence and mental disorders. What is the connection between mental disorders and acts of violence?

Dr. Rettenberger: The connection that is currently being discussed, that mental illness inevitably goes hand in hand with a tendency to violent behavior, is not tenable. A quick look at the prevalence figures (which indicate how often an illness occurs) shows that: It is estimated that around 15 to 20% of all people worldwide will suffer from a clinically relevant depressive disorder at least once in their life. Similar figures are also being discussed for other mental disorders such as anxiety disorders. At the same time, we know that the probability of serious acts of violence is comparatively low and that it is a very rare occurrence: For example, the crime statistics show that the number of intentional homicides in Germany has fallen significantly in the last few decades and, for example, fewer than 300 cases of death in 2012 intentional homicides had to be registered in Germany. Of course, each and every one of these cases is always one case too many, but the figures from the official crime statistics make it clear that serious acts of violence are rare occurrences, the probability of which has continued to decrease in recent years. This comparison alone between the frequency of acts of violence on the one hand and the prevalence of mental illnesses on the other hand shows that the vast majority of people who currently or in the past suffered from a mental illness are not dangerous and do not pose a risk to other people.

Question: Does this apply to all mental illnesses in general?

Dr. Rettenberger: A look at the criminological statistics shows that only a very small proportion of all violent criminals are ordered to be admitted to a forensic-psychiatric facility. This arrangement presupposes that a causal connection is assumed between the commission of the offense and mental illness. However, it is precisely this connection that actually only exists in a very few cases.

We now know that there are individual disorders that - if not treated appropriately - are associated with a higher risk of violent behavior compared to the normal population. However, this only applies if there are other risk factors in addition to the presence of the disorder: For example, the risk of violent behavior in people with paranoid schizophrenia is increased if the necessary treatment measures are not (or cannot) be carried out. Other risk factors that can promote violence in the case of mental illness are alcohol, drug or medication abuse as well as in particular (disease-independent) parts of the personality that are closely related to crime and violent behavior. An example of this would be the presence of antisocial or antisocial personality components, which include, among other things, a relatively stable tendency to disregard social norms, a low tolerance for frustration and a comparatively strong tendency to aggressive behavior. Such personality components or accentuations must be clearly differentiated from the aforementioned mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders.

Question: How do you rate the current grappling with the possible mental illness of the co-pilot?

Dr. Rettenberger: A central danger in the current discussion must be seen in the fact that the exclusion and stigmatization experience that people with mental disorders already experience set in motion a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: will people with mental illnesses be prevented from self-consciously through further fear of exclusion Admitting illness and communicating it to others increases the risk of negative disease progression. This may increase the intensity of the symptoms. As stated above, a risk factor for violent behavior is not necessarily the mental illness itself, but the fact that it is not being treated appropriately. If, as a result, people are more likely to be deterred by the current dispute from accepting the help offered, taking up the topic may increase the risk that was originally intended to be contained.

Additional Information:

Dr. Martin Rettenberger
Psychologist (Dipl.-Psych.), Criminologist (M.A.), specialist psychologist for forensic psychology (DGPs / BDP)
Director of the Criminological Central Office (KrimZ), Wiesbaden
Tel .: 0611 1575811
Email: m.rettenberger (at) krimz.de

DGPs-press release-30-03-2015.pdf

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