Eric B. Elbogen and Nico Verykoukis

Oct 8, 2023

Violence and Mental Illness

Rethinking Risk Factors and Enhancing Public Safety

New York University Press 2023

Mass shootings have become a defining issue of our time. Whenever the latest act of newsworthy violence occurs, mental illness is inevitably cited as a preeminent cause by members of the news media and political sphere alike. Eric B. Elbogen and Nico Verykoukis's book Violence and Mental Illness: Rethinking Risk Factors and Enhancing Public Safety (NYU Press, 2023) exposes how mental illness is vastly overemphasized in popular discussion of mass violence, which in turn makes us all less safe.

The recurring and intense focus on mental illness in the wake of violent tragedy is fueled by social stigma and cognitive bias, strengthening an exaggerated link between violence and mental illness. Yet as Elbogen and Verykoukis clearly and compellingly demonstrate in this book, a wide array of empirical data show that this link is much weaker than commonly believed-numerous other risk factors have been proven to be stronger predictors of violence. In particular, the authors argue that overweighting mental illness means underweighting more robust risk factors, which are external (e.g., poverty, financial strain, inadequate social support), internal (e.g., younger age, anger, substance abuse), or violence-defining (e.g., lacking empathy, gun access, hate group membership). These risk factors need to be incorporated more fully into public policies around public safety. These risk factors need to be taken into consideration when crafting policies that concern public safety, with emphasis on strategies for reducing the viability and acceptability of violence as a choice.

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