The presumed link between mental illness and violence is a hot-button topic these days—and to the chagrin of many mental health professionals, this connection seems to add to the stigma of those who suffer from various types of mental illness. There are likely two reasons why this connection has been made, at least in the arena of public belief. First, we’ve seen numerous high-profile violent crimes in recent years (most notably related to gun violence and/or mass shootings) that have been attributed with people who have been diagnosed with severe mental illness. And second, many acts of violence are so senseless that we naturally begin looking for a reason why they might have occurred. (In other words, when a violent act appears to be insane, we generally blame it on insanity.)
This idea also raises an important question among couples and families: Can mental illness be a contributing factor or trigger mechanism for domestic violence? Put another way, can we blame an act of domestic violence on mental illness? For that matter, if so, could mental illness be used as a successful defense against domestic violence charges? Let’s explore this question in a bit more detail, looking at the latest science and research while unpacking some of the myths surrounding this question.
The Short Answer Is Yes—But It’s Far More Seldom than You Think