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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

July 28, 2009 at 4:00 PM

South Park slaying: Don’t finger mental illness as cause

Kalebu case highlights importance of treatment

Your coverage of the horrible murder and assault that Isaiah M.K. Kalebu is accused of committing [“Video, DNA trail led police to suspect,” page one, July 26] suggests he became competent to stand trial in response to mental-health treatment at Western State Hospital.

Like most people who have severe mental illnesses, Kalebu seems to respond to taking medications. We need to remember that severe mental illness is treatable, and the vast majority of people who have mental illness are not violent. Kalebu’s repeated threatening and assaultive behaviors may or may not be related to his mental illness.

— Perry Wien, Seattle

Don’t blame mental illness for all violent crimes

As news stories about the horrific violence Teresa Butz and her partner endured continue [“South Park slaying suspect caught,” page one, July 25], we are sure to learn more about the mental-health status of the suspect, Isaiah M.K. Kalebu. While we all want an explanation for why such a heinous crime occurred, it is unlikely to be found with this line of reporting.

The news story, “Study says mental illness alone is no trigger for violence,” was published by The Seattle Times Feb. 9 [seattletimes.com, Health]. Many research studies, including the one reported in this news story, find that people with mental illness, without other big risk factors, are no more violent than most people.

It is bewildering then that crime stories routinely report any past or a current diagnoses of mental illness — implying there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the diagnosis and the crime.

If journalists are looking for possible explanations for violent crimes, they should be spending their time tracking down other attainable facts — such as whether suspects are abusing drugs or alcohol, are recently divorced or separated, have a parental criminal history or were unemployed in the last year, as researchers have found these to be better predictors of violence than a diagnosis of mental illness.

It is time to examine why mental illness has become a scapegoat to explain violent crimes. Is it further evidence of the stigma and discrimination people with mental illness endure or a lack of education that perpetuates the myth?

— Jennifer Stuber, Seattle

Comments | More in courts, crime/justice, Mental illness

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