A psychological disorder is a behavioral or mental condition that affects a person’s
emotions, the way they think and behave to an extent where they are in constant distress and
unable to function normally in society and perform their day-to-day tasks. The symptoms vary
from one person to another and can range in severity. Some examples of psychological and
emotional disorders are schizophrenia, addictive behaviors, eating disorders, depression and
anxiety disorders. These conditions need to be diagnosed by mental health professionals such as
psychiatrists and psychotherapists (American Psychiatric Association, 2017). This is not only
important for proper treatment and management of the conditions, but also for society to
understand them better. Myths and misconceptions about mental illnesses and disorders have
been prevalent for centuries. There is, however, an increase in more modern research in the field
that has helped both professionals and individuals address these misconceptions and change the
way we think about and deal with them. One of the most common myths that continues to exist
in society today is that people with mental illness are violent and dangerous. Information from
research is important in addressing this myth because it gives substantial data de-linking
psychological disorders from the misconception. It is also important in informing policy and
developing better and more effective treatment.
The idea that people with psychological disorders are violent and dangerous is deeply
ingrained in our society. According to Havard Health Publishing (2011), a national survey in
2006 indicated that “60% of Americans thought that people with schizophrenia were likely to act
violently toward someone else…” The report goes to further explain that previous studies linking
violence and psychological disorders did not fully take into account other factors such as
substance abuse. In fact, current research has provided information that rates of violence are
closer linked to other factors such as socioeconomics and family history than it is to mental
illness. Van Brunt and Pescara-Kovach (2019) highlight that individuals with certain mental
illnesses, such as Bipolar and schizophrenia, have a higher risk of committing violent acts.
However, the kind of reactive violence seen in patients with these conditions are mostly
triggered by feelings of being threatened and fear. They also found that patients who received
proper treatment through therapy and medication and had social support were consistent. There
was very little difference observed in acts of violence with mentally ill patients and the general
population rendering the notion of psychological disorders and dangerousness irrelevant.
Modern research in psychology has also helped change people’s bias of mental illness
and violence by influencing policy. The number of government institutions addressing the
importance of mental health and publicly addressing stigma associated with it has increased over
the last few years. More emphasis is being put on the promotion of mental health as a necessity,
with more government agencies employing the input of mental health professionals in
formulating legislations and policy. This can be seen especially in schools and prisons. Violence
is a vice that these two institutions are keen on addressing. Information from research has
presented that it is the risk factors like trauma, abuse and early exposure to violence that need to
be addressed. More policies are being made to specifically make access to mental health services
and to facilitate community support because the issue of violence has been found to be more of a
societal factor than it is a psychological one. This has largely contributed to more people in the
public being educated and sensitized to issues pertaining to psychological disorders and has
greatly helped in moving away from this misconception (World Health Organization, 2018).
The information presented in research today on psychological and emotional disorders is
helping us understand people living with mental illness. By debunking the common
misconceptions attached to them, more people are being sensitized to the normalcy of mental
illness and their symptoms. Professionals are also able to identify management and treatment that
is more effective for the people affected. There is less alienation of people afflicted with these
psychological disorders which is especially crucial in effective treatment as more people and
organizations understand their symptoms and behaviors. This helps in creating more channels for
communication instead of vilifying those with the disorders which in turn creates more inclusive
communities and the general well being of the society (Teplin, 1985). It also helps inform the
government and relevant institutions on the real causes of violence and how to set up
preventative measures other than dealing with its effects after it has happened. There is still a lot
to be learnt but we are far better off today with the information we have now and have the
potential of improving significantly if we continue investing our time, effort and finances in the
progression and research of mental health.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017). Diagnostic and Statistical manual of mental
disorders: DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association (ed.)).
Havard Health Publishing. (2011). Mental illness and violence.
Teplin, L. A. (1985). The criminality of the mentally ill: A dangerous misconception. American
Journal of Psychiatry, 142(5), 593–599. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.142.5.593
Van Brunt, B., & Pescara-Kovach, L. (2019). Debunking the myths: Mental illness and mass
shootings. Violence and Gender, 6(1), 53–63. https://doi.org/10.1089/vio.2018.0016
World Health Organization. (2018). The prevention of mental disorders: Effective interventions
and policy options.