Violent behavior a difficult prediction

December 19, 2012

Even for highly trained mental health professionals, assessing an individual’s potential for committing future violent acts is a complex exercise with many uncertainties. In the wake of last month’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Alan Teo, Ph.D., a psychiatrist at U-M who recently published an evaluation of a tool for assessing imminent risk of violence by patients in acute psychiatric care settings, spoke with the L.A. Times’ “Booster Shots” health blog about the difficulties in predicting anyone’s propensity for violence over the long-term, and the hazards of assuming that mental illness by itself makes an individual more likely to engage in violent behavior.

“The vast, vast majority of people with mental illness are never, ever going to be violent, and even schizophrenics with paranoia are not going to be,” Teo, said. “Paranoia in and of itself does not raise my rating of violence risk. The public should not assume a person with paranoia is actually a danger.” Read the full article here.

And an article in the daily online news section of The Atlantic magazine (“What Research Can Tell Us About the Newtown Shootings”) cited a study authored by several U-M Psychiatry faculty, which found that only a small percentage of people with autism have a history of violence. Addressing speculation that the Newtown shooter may have had Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism that was recently removed from the DSM-5, the article concluded that the link between autism and mass violence isn’t clear, and various autism groups have also since spoken out, renouncing speculation that the disorder would have led to the violence in Newtown.