Guest Post: The Violence of People with Mental Illness

I was handcuffed a couple of years ago. Policemen threw me to the ground violently and handcuffed me as if I were a criminal. But I was not committing a crime; I was experiencing a manic episode of Bipolar I Disorder – I was mentally ill.

This photo, “The Granite Cross,” is copyright (c) 2014 Tobias Lindman and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

This photo, “handcuffs,” is copyright (c) 2014 Keith Allison and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

There is a lot of misinformation surrounding mental health. Much of society believes that people with mental illness have violent tendencies, but the reality is that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than they are to be violent themselves, as is evident in the situation described above. The percentage of violence among the mentally ill is very small, and most violent people do not actually suffer from mental illness.

Unfortunately a lot of people learn about mental health through the media, so the above facts may be surprising to many. With the exception of Robin Williams’ recent death, the media only talks about mental health when a psychopath does something terrible, so it is no wonder society believes people with mental illness are violent!

Facts about mental health should be common knowledge, but they are not because there is still so much stigma surrounding the matter. I mean, why learn about mental health when it is such a taboo topic? That seems to be the attitude of many anyway.

When I tell people I have bipolar disorder, the most common reaction I receive is a question: “What is bipolar disorder?” This reaction astonishes me because 1 in 4 American adults suffer from mental illness, which means that, unless a recluse, everyone knows someone with mental illness. Why then do people know so little about the subject?

The answer is that we do not talk about it, even those of us who have mental illness (because society makes us feel ashamed to suffer from it). And when we do talk about it, it is often in ignorance. An example of this is Robin Williams’ death. Many people said it was selfish of him to commit suicide. That statement assumes that Robin Williams was in control of his thoughts when he killed himself. I assure you that he was not; he was mentally ill.

Talking about mental illness is important, but even more important is being educated about it. After all, how can we remove the stigma surrounding mental health if we speak about it in ignorance? Whether or not you have mental illness, I encourage you to educate yourself about the matter:

  • Go to NAMI.org and read descriptions of the various mental illnesses.
  • Follow bloggers who write openly about mental illness.
  • Speak with people you know who have mental illness and ask them questions about it.

There is no excuse to be uniformed about mental health…not in this day and age. So change the world for the better by learning about it. Let’s remove stigma together.


Kylie blogs about mental health, dating and relationships, Christianity (as a non-Christian), and much more, with a focus on asking questions, at Journey of Kylie.

5 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Violence of People with Mental Illness

  1. Sometimes I think people who are mentally ill being brave and opening up about it can be the big thing that changes everyone’s minds. Unfortunately, that can be hard. They will face hard, insulting comments and have to try to keep their cool. A friend of mine once had an episode. After hospitalization, they were put on medication to manage the mental illness. I remember my father scoffing “So as long as they take those pills they won’t kill themselves?” as if that was the stupidest thing in the world. Getting angry at a person who says something like that won’t make anyone happy. Somehow, those who think that way must be confronted with facts and truth in the hopes they might see the error of their ways.

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    • Yes, it definitely can be hard. I hope more people will step up and talk about it. The more that happens, the more people will see that it is a reality…and the more understanding will be present.

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  2. Hi Kylie excellent post and I love your perspective. I work with people who struggle with substance dependence of whom 80% have a mental disability as well. Life is tough enough without having to face discrimination due to ignorance. The media needs to take responsibility for a variety of social misconceptions. I no longer watch the news because of the unbalanced and misinformed reporting we’re subjected to. These reports perpetuate the stigma and discrimination of race, mental health, substance dependence, religion blah blah blah. I am not saying the press is responsible for every unresolved discrimination just that they do little to help audiences understand … and I’m sticking my neck out here when I say that a lot of us do not filter bigoted reporting through our own research and experience. We suck it up and the wheel of disadvantage turns once more. Thank you for hosting this post 20/20! 🙂

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