Is mental illness unfairly linked to violence?

The statistics show that people with a mental illness are far more likely to be the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of violence. And yet, here were again this week shining the spotlight on what role mental illness might have played in a crime.

But does the latest Fort Hood shooting paint an unfair picture of the link. NPR’s Shots blog thinks so.

Army officials said yesterday that Ivan Lopez had seen a psychiatrist in the last month, but there were no indications that he was suicidal.

Writer Joseph Shapiro suggests the focus should be less on his mental health, and more on the security at Fort Hood, considering the 2009 killing spree by Maj. Nidal Hasan.

It’s more reasonable to question whether the Army could have prevented Hasan’s violence — but not because of mental illness. The FBI had seen email Hasan sent to the website of terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, expressing his own sympathy toward suicide bombers.

And, as my NPR colleague Daniel Zwerdling reported, Hasan’s supervisor at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was so concerned about Hasan’s “pattern of poor judgment and a lack of professionalism” that he wrote a memo sharply criticizing the doctor. That kind of document could have ended a military career.

But instead, the Army — with a shortage of psychiatrists and a flood of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health problems — kept Hasan working.