The horrifying mass murders at theÂ Washington Navy YardÂ andÂ Sandy Hook Elementary SchoolÂ were both committed by individuals with long-standing mental-health problems.Â The eventsÂ galvanized a national discussion about how to improve the accessibility and quality ofÂ our mental-health system.
At the same time, these tragedies can paint in the mind of the public a false image of the mentally ill as universally violent and dangerous rather than human beings in need of assistance and compassionate care.Â That may account for why a shamefully large number of mentally ill people are behind bars.Â L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca has found himself heading whatÂ he callsÂ â€œthe nationâ€™s largest mental hospital:â€ The L.A. County Jail.
While protecting public safety is a critical concern, itâ€™s important to maintain perspective when analyzing the role of mental illness in violent crime.Â Harold Pollack, PhD,Â of the University of ChicagoÂ puts it this way:
Millions of Americans suffer from some form of severe mental illness, or SMI. Itâ€™s important to remember that the vast majority of these men and women have never committed a violent crime and never will commit one. Indeed, the mentally ill are often victims of violent crime, a social problem that has not received sufficient attention.
To dig into these important issues in a productive way,Â Stanford medical school heldÂ a Health Policy ForumÂ devoted to the topic â€œSerious Mental Illness: How can we promote public health and public safety?â€ Harold Pollack and Lee Baca graciously came to Stanford for the forum and were joined by Laura Roberts, MD, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and a national expert in serious mental illness.