In the aftermath of the recent shooting in Toronto that left three people dead, including the gunman Faisal Hussain, the Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA) is concerned that publicity surrounding this event may reinforce the unwarranted public perception of a link between violence and mental illness.
While the CPA condemns the actions taken by the 29-year-old who reportedly suffered from depression and symptoms of psychosis, Canadian psychiatrists want to stress to the media and public that mental illness is not a risk factor for violence.
“There is not a higher incidence of violent behaviour among those diagnosed with a mental illness than there is in the general population,” says Dr. Nachiketa Sinha, CPA president. “In fact, individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence.”
Current research has shown that people with a major mental illness are 2.5 times more likely to be the victims of violence than other members of society. Another study by Dr. Sandy Simpson, a forensic psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, has shown that only a small proportion of violent crimes are committed by individuals with a serious mental illness. Only 4 per cent of offenders were considered not criminally responsible for their homicides due to a severe mental illness.
“The perception that mental illness carries with it a potential for violence has been proven wrong in many studies,” says Dr. Sinha. “The best risk factor for future violence is previous violence – whether one is mentally ill or not.”
A 1996 Health Canada review of scientific articles found that the strongest predictor of violence and criminal behaviour is not major illness but past history of violence. Factors such as age, gender and substance abuse issues are also greater contributors to the risk of violent acts.
“We are saddened by what happened in Toronto on the night of July 22nd and our deepest condolences go out to everyone affected,” says Dr. Sinha. “It is critical that we do not connect the risk of violence with mental illness. It is a dangerous stigma to reinforce in a society that has come so far in acknowledging the lives, contributions and successful recovery of the many individuals impacted by mental illness.”
The Canadian Psychiatric Association is the national voice for Canada’s 5,200 psychiatrists and more than 900 psychiatric residents. Founded in 1951, the CPA is dedicated to promoting an environment that fosters excellence in the provision of clinical care, education and research.