Why Mental Illness is not to blame for the Virginia Tech Massacre

The horrendous massacre of 32 Virginia Tech students by Seung-Hui Cho has caused a frenzy within the news media, talk show hosts, and the general public regarding the long hypothesized link between acts of violence and mental illness.

Although the true causal origin of Cho’s decision to engage in a murderous rampage is beyond the grasp of modern science, popular wisdom seems to suggest that his actions were the result of delusional paranoia or psychopathology. However, this contradicts modern scientific knowledge. Individuals with a mental illness are far more likely to be the victims, rather than the perpetrators of violence, while the vast majority of people who commit acts of violence against others are not in fact mentally ill.

This rush to stereotype individuals suffering from psychiatric illness as likely murderers is reckless and lacks credulity. Mental illness has no role in the majority of violent crimes committed in our society. Alcohol and substance abuse far outweigh mental illness as factors contributing to violence, while the strongest predictor of violent and/or criminal behavior is a past history of violence and criminality, not a major mental illness.

This rush to judgment obscures the fact that violence against individuals with mental health problems is a chronic problem causing ongoing fear, social isolation, and a lack of confidence in those who are victimized. While it is not easy to overcome false, though deeply held, beliefs, it is essential that this false and misleading rush to stereotype those with a mental illness be confronted with facts. Otherwise, it will result in increased intolerance and potentially even violence towards the millions of Americans who currently struggle with a mental illness.

Learning the facts about the true association between violent behavior and mental illness is a necessary and important first step in developing a realistic understanding of why some people choose to commit senseless acts of violence against others.

Nicholas Vakkur is a researcher that lives in Venice, CA with his wife and two children. He can be reached at: Nv1234567@hotmail.com. Read other articles by Nicholas, or visit Nicholas's website.

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  1. Alison said on May 5th, 2007 at 1:28pm #

    Thank you so much for this article. I wish the mainstream media would listen, but they won’t. I was at a taskforce meeting in Virginia taped by CNN and they didn’t air the voice of one person there who had personally experienced psychiatric illness. The segment was like an unpaid advertisement for the Treatment Advocacy Center.