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DJ Jaffe


Maurice Clemmons: Mental Illness Does Cause Violence

Posted: 12/01/09 09:00 AM ET

Maurice Clemmons is the alleged shooter of four policemen. He was likely mentally ill and untreated.

 According to the Seattle Times:

Clemmons was (previously) accused of gathering his wife and young relatives around at 3 or 4 in the morning and having them all undress. He told them they need to "be naked for at least 5 minutes on Sunday," a Pierce County sheriff's report says. "The whole time Clemmons kept saying things like trust him, the world is going to end soon, and that he was Jesus," the report says.

Clemmons' sister … told (police) "Maurice is not in his right mind “...he was saying that the secret service was coming to get him because he had written a letter to the President. …(H)is behavior has become unpredictable and erratic.” She suspects he is having a mental breakdown," the report says.

..(O)ther family members…reported that Clemmons had been saying he could fly and that he expected President Obama to visit to "confirm that he is Messiah in the flesh."

All this raises the question “are the mentally ill more violent than others?”

The answer depends on how you define “mental illness”.  If “mental illness” incorporates 40% of the population who ‘advocates’, and ‘professionals’ say have a ‘diagnosable mental disorder”, studies find they are not more violent than others. 

But when most of us ask the question, “are the mentally ill more violent” we are not asking about the "worried-well", we are asking about the most seriously mentally ill—the 5% of the population with illnesses like schizophrenia and treatment-resistant bipolar disorder. People more likely to be living in the streets untreated, than working. In that case, the answer is clearly “yes”.

The seriously mentally ill who are untreated are more violent as a group than others. 

 Dr. E. Fuller Torrey founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center created the best collection of statistics on violence by the mentally ill. Here are just a few:

A 1988 Department of Justice study reported that individuals with a history of mental illness (not including drug or alcohol abuse) were responsible for 25 percent of cases in which an individual killed his/her parent.

 Of the 28 homicides between 1970 and 1975 in Albany County, New York, individuals with schizophrenia committed 29 percent.

 Individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia carried out 10 percent of all homicides between 1978–1980 in Contra Costa County in California.

 In Indiana, 10.2% of homicides between 1990 and 2002 were by individuals diagnosed  with serious mental illness  

 A study of 133 outpatients with schizophrenia showed that 13 percent of the study group was characteristically violent.

 A Swedish 1990 study reported the seriously mentally ill committed violent offenses at a rate four times greater than the general population. 

There are many other such studies.  In reviewing many one researcher concluded:

"The data that have recently become available, fairly read, suggest the one conclusion I did not want to reach: Whether the measure is the prevalence of violence among the disordered or the prevalence of disorder among the violent, whether the sample is people who are selected for treatment as inmates or patients in institutions or people randomly chosen from the open community, and no matter how many social and demographic factors are statistically taken into account, there appears to be a relationship between mental disorder and violent behavior."

There are over 1000 homicides committed every year in the USA by individuals with untreated serious mental illness.

In spite of the overwhelming evidence, there are many violence deniers out there. Most of them are commissioners of the state mental health departments. If they acknowledge violence, then they would have to revamp their 'blinders on' policy. Instead of helping the 5% who are most seriously ill, they focus the bulk of their dollars on the 40% with a "diagnosable" mental illness which they define quite broadly.  As a result of abandonment of the most seriously ill by the mental health departments, the police have become the de-facto mental health system. Four policemen recently paid the price.

The good news is that research shows treatment lowers the rate of violence. From a policy perspective, this means one way to lower violence would be for state legislators to pass laws requiring their mental health departments to spend at least 80% of their mental health dollars on the most seriously ill. Those most likely to become violent.

Another helpful change would be to implement Assisted Outpatient Treatment Laws. These laws have been shown to dramatically reduce violence by the mentally ill. They require the mentally ill to stay on violence preventing medications, monitor compliance, and commit the system to providing services. When the NYS Mental Health Department was forced by the Legislature to implement these laws, they found that among the mentally ill in the program:

47 percent fewer harmed others

46 percent fewer experienced damaged or destroyed property

43% fewer threatened physical harm to others

83 percent fewer experienced arrest;

87 percent fewer experienced incarceration


Maurice Clemmons has now been killed, and his only other option was to be captured. Neither was a good outcome for him. Treatment would have been better for all. Certainly it would have been better for the four policemen. We have to stop denying violence and start treating it.

(Public Safety advocates, criminal justice advocates, mental illness advocates and legislators should contact the Treatment Advocacy Center to learn how to implement these changes.)


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