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Letters | One Reader's View

Violent crimes by the mentally ill are rare

I was disappointed that ethicist Arthur Caplan chose to contribute to the stigma of mental illness in "Diagnosing Va. Tech" (April 25). While he is right that the mental health system needs fixing, Caplan highlights four tragedies involving violence to make his point, without noting that such tragedies are extremely rare.

"Violent crimes committed by psychiatric patients become big headlines," said Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, author of a study of violence and mental illness. "But our findings suggest that serious violence is the rare exception among all people with psychiatric disorders." People with mental illness are far more often victims of violence than perpetrators.

Caplan seems to call for a change in the system that would make it easier to lock people up. However, a five-year study in Washington State after such a change was made in the state's commitment laws found that it did nothing to protect the community from dangerous people or to solve homelessness. All it accomplished was a waste of precious resources.

Yes, we need to continue to work on the mental health system so that it provides effective help for the estimated 26 percent of American adults who will experience a mental disorder in a given year. But columns such as Caplan's just contribute to the stigma and are not part of the solution.

Joseph A. Rogers
President for Policy and Advocacy
Mental Health Association
of Southeastern Pennsylvania