Panel tackles mental illness, violent behavior |

Panel tackles mental illness, violent behavior

John Barrette

Most mentally ill people aren’t dangerous. It’s the combination of mental illness and substance abuse that leads to trouble, residents were told Thursday.

That was the gist of presentations by a panel of people with health and criminal justice backgrounds Thursday at a Sierra Nevada Forums presentation, an event that nearly filled the Plaza Conference Center’s main room.

“They’re less likely to be involved in violent crimes,” said Dr. Tracey Green, medical director the Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services in Nevada. She pointed out in her PowerPoint presentation that statistically, mentally ill people don’t commit more crimes than others.

She also touted the state’s integration of physical and mental health, as well as efforts to combat recidivism through a forensic jail program designed “to engage people as they’re leaving jails and prisons” and help them avoid repeat offenses.

Joe McEllistrem, a forensic psychologist in private practice who consults for Carson City and Douglas County, agreed that the mentally ill are not particularly violent; instead, he said, they often are victims of violence.

He added that the mentally ill do commit violent acts, including 5 percent to 10 percent of homicides, but added that many who commit community crimes have gone untreated.

McEllistrem, a fellow of the Menninger School of Psychiatry, cited studies conducted in the 1990s and 20 years later. Factors contributing to violence other than a combination of substance abuse and mental illness, he said, include male gender, young adulthood, a history of violence, a recent divorce or separation, a history of being physically abused and parental criminal history or violence.

Judge John Tatro of Carson City, who in 2005 helped initiate Carson City’s Mental Health Court, was on the panel. He discussed how the specialty court team deals with the mentally ill and also cited the co-occurring theme involving mental illness and substance abuse.

Carson City has made significant strides in the field, he said, calling the progress “this unbelievable evolution that’s happened in a short period of time.”

The panel was moderated by Mary Bryan, director of the Carson City Community Counseling Center.