Twitter is full of surprises. Whenever I log on, I never know what it’ll turn up. Yesterday, when I went to check what the current crop of “mental health and violence”media stories were doing in the wake of the horrific Newtown school shooting, things took an unexpected turn.
In this case, Twitter threw up an article in the Guardian newspaper, entitled, “Rising fears about ‘mad axeman’ murderers not borne out by statistics”. Supposedly a positive story using statistics to refute the myth that people with mental health problems are the perpetrators of violent crime.
As one tweep said, however:
“Only the Guardian could reinforce stereotypes about mental illness in an article designed to undermine them.” (Blakean Warrior-Poet @LosTheSkald)
The problem? The psychiatrist quoted as the basis of the statistics in the article referred to “normal people” as being the group with the greatest increase in murders. “Normal people.” An odd turn of phrase and, I’d hope, a mis-quote.
However, as presented, the article states that it’s the “normal people” who are committing the murders. So, as one tweep (herself a psychiatrist) pointed out, shouldn’t the rest of us be the ones who get armed for our own self-protection?
See this Storify story for some illuminating and hilarious tweets on this topic.
Here’s an excerpt from the Guardian article:
Although the level of homicides has risen markedly since the 1950s in Britain, the number of those committed by the mentally ill has remained static … “There is very, very good evidence that there has been no increase in ‘mad axeman’ murders since the 1950s,” said Dr Trevor Turner, a consultant psychiatrist in east London and former vice president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
In the 1950s, there were about 100 murders a year, of which 30-40 were committed by people with mental illnesses at a time when 150,000 people were locked up in asylums. In the 1990s, said Turner, there were about 750 murders a year, but the numbers committed by people with mental illness remained at 30-40, even though the norm was by then care in the community and the asylum population had dropped to about 30,000. The conclusion, said Turner, is that “the rate of murders by normal people has climbed inexorably”.