Violence is NOT a Mental Illness, BUT . . .

From Elana Kravitz, Director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, and friend of NC CANSO

See the link to Hayes’ article below.

NYAPRS Note: In the following timely piece, Slate’s Laura Hayes explores what we know about those who commit violent crimes and asks how can we recognize them and take the right actions to avoid future violent acts. 

She concludes that these crimes are actually committed by “violent people, almost always men, who are lonely, isolated, blame others for their problems, and (who) lack the skills to manage anger,” thereby inhibiting their own ability to socialize and integrate into networks of friends and companions.

Because of a general lack of understanding of “mental illness”, we see troubling stereotyping is not just wrong but that it gets in the way of finding a real solution to our violence problem.  People who are violently angry are not mentally ill by our current standards.  Instead of treating them, we call them names, we avoid them. Can we do better than that?

One of the most challenging reasons that we lack a system for intervention, is the very nature of the problem. “Violent angry people do not go looking for help on their own. Because they live in a state of perpetually feeling under threat, they trust no one and do not seek out support.”

Where are the answers?  Since so many mass shooters, for example, are young school aged men, we can look to thoseschools that are on the cutting edge of dealing with crisis.  For example, Peace of Mind in D.C.,, and Mindful Schools in California,, each offer a curriculum for mindfulness; PassageWorks, Colorado program for teachers and staff to integrate mindfulness into their work; Mindful Teachers, a website of resources for teachers; and Peace In Schools,, which provides programs for teens and training for teachers. Each of these programs provide much needed skills for coping with emotion and stress reduction for all kids, they can also serve to identify kids who are struggling the most with these skills. 

Too often, hostile kids identified as “a problem” get a mental health referral, but are quickly dumped because they fit no diagnosis and are difficult to work with.

Criminalizing emotional distress is not the goal. We should be seeking to heal the individual while protecting the public. This requires a response of compassion to those who frighten or anger us…..and that is no small thing.