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Are People with Bipolar Disorder Violent?

Robin Kahler: Wed, Feb 23rd 2011

They say we are having more earthquakes and that is a sign of the end of the world. I think because scientists have placed over ten thousand new seismographs in the earth in the last few years, we are more aware of the earthquakes and their number may be the same as it has always been.

no violence signI live in Tucson, Arizona, where we had a mass murder last month. You may have heard about it, the one where Congresswoman Giffords was shot while hosting an outdoor meeting in the parking lot of a supermarket. They say mass murder is as rare as an earthquake, but I've managed to live near a few of them in my lifetime and I've learned to watch my surroundings when I'm out and about.

The young man who shot the Congresswoman and 18 people in the small crowd with her, is Jared Loughner. Most people say that he is insane. I'm not a doctor, but I am bipolar and I have been in states of complete mania, and I think I know what it feels like to feel insane. In short, I don't know if I agree that Loughner is insane.

The truth of the matter is that just because you have a mental illness; does not mean you are violent. I know that each person needs to be evaluated on an individual basis, but I believe that includes every individual, not just those of us who have a diagnosis; sane people murder, too.

When I had my wildest mania I was too paranoid to answer my phone. Every time it rang I would stand near it and scream, "Don't answer it! Don't answer it!" I was convinced that an electric shock would come through the wires and kill whomever picked up the receiver. I was totally "out of touch", but I wasn't violent.

I tried to go to the library to find a book that would explain the voices in my head. But I couldn't make a decision as to which book I should check out. The thousands of books on the shelves overwhelmed me. But I didn't shoot the librarian.

Which brings me back to Jared Loughner. On the Saturday morning when he shot 19 people at point blank range, he made a decision to hide his car and take a taxi to the sight of the shooting. He gave the taxi cab driver a $20 and then demanded that the driver go into the Safeway supermarket to get change for the remainder of his tab. Loughner is seen on film buying earplugs, then going into the men's room and inserting the plugs before he went outside and shot a 9 year old child through her abdomen, along with the others he shot, until he was wrestled to the ground by a senior citizen who wasn't ready to die.

Of course, I can only judge by my own times of insanity, but I know that I could never make those decisions while manic. Loughner is to be placed on trial here in Tucson. He should pray that I am not called to jury duty because the only thing that I see that is insane concerning him, is his plea of "Not Guilty".

Once again, just because a person has a mental illness, does not mean they are violent. In fact, the people I know who are bipolar are very gentle, even to the extreme. I have to ask my husband to open a can of Pillsbury dinner rolls, because I dislike slamming the can down onto the counter, and I hate the sudden POP. I am not unlike most bipolar patients, most of us are non-violent.

So while we hear the call go out for more help for the mentally ill, please, let us not go to the extreme and assume that everyone with a mental illness will commit a criminal act.


Robin Kahler

Robin Kahler is a patient who was diagnosed with affective bipolar disorder in 1988. She works from her home in Tucson, Arizona, as an antiques appraiser and dealer. She enjoys a full-time hobby as a freelance writer. Her articles are written to offer her personal experiences (successes and failures) with her own clinical depression. She was raised in an inner-city ghetto, with a parent who was also bipolar, and her stories reflect those situations as well. She and her husband enjoy running a home-based business. They have two adult children, six grandchildren, and several pets.

Reader Comments
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Tired of it - Sad Mom - Apr 19th 2013

Yes, they can be violent.  Son's girlfriend confronted him at 3 am and he has multiple scratches on nose and neck.  Deep scratches.  She called my house so many times I had to unplug the phone afterward.  I do not trust her and cannot understand what he sees in her.

bipolar does NOT equal violence - - May 16th 2011

Shell, I think you are simplifying to the extreme. Bipolar people vary tremendously in their illnesses.  Just as having some people in the general population become violent doesn't make all people violent, having some bipolar people become violent doesn't make all bipolar people violent. In fact, in studies, the percentage of bipolar population that becomes violent is the same percentage of people in the general population who become violent.  This assumption of bipolar meaning violent behaviors is a connection driven by media sensationalism and general stigma against people with mental illness. 

Surgeon General's report - - Feb 24th 2011

The discrimination and stigma associated with mental illnesses largely stem from the link between mental illness and violence in the minds of the general public, according to the U.S. Surgeon General1. The belief that persons with mental illness are dangerous is a significant factor in the development of stigma and discrimination2.

The effects of stigma and discrimination are profound. The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health found that, “Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing, or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders – especially severe disorders, such as schizophrenia. It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment3.”

Bipolar is not criminal violence - Robin Kahler - Feb 24th 2011

There is much to learn yet with bipolar. I personally believe that if a person is not prone to violence, then a change in mood will not cause it.  Yes, when a person is in that "stage" it can be more difficult to control, but we can still control ourselves, we still have the ability to know right from wrong.  I don't believe that bipolar=criminal insanity. Perhaps there are some who use it as an excuse for violent behavior, because they think it is accepted fact. I do not believe it is a "fact".  People who are not bipolar can be violent, too. I think it should be a separate issue and treated separately by a professional. My grandmother and my father were both bipolar and prone to a loss of temper at times, but never criminal acts.

Violence and Bipolar - Shell - Feb 24th 2011

You need to detach your bias of having Bipolar and then state truthfully the facts of this malady pof bipolar and violence without the bias.

I have bipolar and its managed well at this point. However I can say that violence can in fact play a role in violence. That mood is a mojor part of the mixed episode or down swing of the mood in bipolar 2.  There is no denying that fact.  I am floored that you denied bipolar doesnt have to be apart of violence. I am not taking sides on anything done in the news ( person) it is just a fact.


Thank you.


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