LOS ANGELES -- Are people who suffer from mental illnesses more likely to commit violent crimes?
That question has been on the nation's mind since a 22-year-old community college dropout with a history of odd behavior was charged with shooting 20 people outside a Tucson supermarket this month, killing six and wounding 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who police say was his target.
The answer may seem obvious to the general public, given the popularity of movies, TV shows and books in which mentally unbalanced individuals are portrayed as homicidal maniacs. Three-quarters of Americans view mentally ill people as dangerous, according to a 1999 study in the American Journal of Public Health. Another 1999 study from the same journal found that 60 percent of Americans believed patients with schizophrenia -- a condition characterized by disordered thought processes, paranoid delusions and auditory hallucinations -- were likely to commit violent acts.