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Cliffside Park-Edgewater Daily Voice serves Bogota, Cliffside Park & Edgewater

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The myth of mental illness and violence

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

The recent tragedy in which a North Jersey woman allegedly killed one of her daughters and attempted to harm her other daughter and herself truly touches the heart of our community. At the same time, we cannot let this incident give rise to the negative stereotypes and myths that are too often associated with mental illness.


Recent headlines, such as “Morris Township Mom Charged with Killing 4-year-old Daughter May Have History of Mental Illness,” and “Mom Who Killed Daughter Was in Psych Ward,” work to fuel misguided perceptions.


According to a 2003 report from the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 61% of Americans think that people with mental illness are likely to be dangerous to others. The facts show that the correlation between mental illness and violent behavior is not high.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, studies indicate that the vast majority of people who behave violently do not have a mental illness.

Moreover, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that acts of violence by people with mental illness are exceptional, and in fact, people with mental illness are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime.  In reality, people living with mental illness are less violent than the general population.

Mental illness does not discriminate, but people do.

Stigma is a major barrier for those in need of mental health services.  It is important for the public to learn the facts about mental illness so that we can end stigma, discrimination, and violence against those with mental health needs, thus creating healthier communities.

Mental illness is more common than one might think; one in four adults (nearly 60 million individuals) is diagnosed with a mental illness in America, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.  Furthermore, according to industry publication, Social Work Today, some 60% of these individuals have children and successfully raise their children while also managing their mental illness.

Mental illnesses can be successfully treated and people do recover.

The Mental Health Association of Morris County believes that all individuals living with mental illness should be able to lead meaningful lives in the community free from stigma and prejudice.

When we stigmatize an individual living with a mental illness, we are likely discriminating against our mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, friends, or neighbors.

We urge the public to learn the facts about mental illness.  A high correlation between mental illness and violent behavior is most certainly not one of these facts.

Julia Wimmer is Associate Director and Andy Germak Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of Morris County, Inc. in
Mountain Lakes

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