Mental illness, violence and Asian Americans


Here are some key points about mental illness, violence and Asian Americans.

Statistics don’t show a strong link between mental illness and violence

  • Less than 5% of the 120,000 gun-related killings between 2001 and 2010 were caused by people with diagnosed mental illnesses, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
  • Mentally ill people are less likely to be involved in gun crimes than people aren’t mentally ill, according to psychiatrist Paul S. Appelbaum.
  • Studies suggest mentally ill people are more likely to be the victims of violence than people who aren’t mentally ill. One study that analyzed 174 schizophrenia patients in Los Angeles and found that they were 14 times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than to be arrested for one.

How we form perceptions that mentally ill people are violent

  • Sixty-three percent of Americans believe mass shootings are a mental health issue, according to a 2015 poll.
  • Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that news stories linking mental illness and violence are on the rise. Between 1994 and 2005, 1% of front-pages stories linked violence with mental illness. That percentage rose to 18% between 2005 and 2014.
  • A 2013 Gallup poll found that 48% of Americans blame the mental health profession for mass shootings.

Violence is hard to predict

A study conducted in the late 1990s found that mental health professionals trying to predict violent behavior among patients were correct about half of the time — slightly better than a coin flip. A subsequent study in 2012 found that profession’s predictive tools had improved slightly, but they still weren’t accurate enough to be used as the sole determinant for sentencing, detention and release.

Asian Americans and mental health

  • Asian Americans, especially Asian American immigrants, are less likely to seek mental health than the general population, according Nolan Zane, a researcher and professor at UC Davis. Language barriers and a lack of providers who understand Asian cultures contribute to that disparity.
  • In Asia, mental illnesses are less likely to be treated as medical conditions, according to Mariko Kahn, the executive director of Pacific Asian Counseling Services. Many Asian languages have no words to describe mental illness, except words with negative connotations. Many of the words used in Asian languages to describe mental health have negative connotations.
  • In Hong Kong, where Lai Hang grew up, a survey by the Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists shows that there are only 345 working psychiatrists for a population of 7 million people, about half the ideal number.
  • Here’s a list of Los Angeles agencies that offer culturally specific mental health services for Asian Americans.