According to the public prosecutor, after the rampage on Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm, the driver is to be admitted to a psychiatric ward. Are People With Mental Illness Really More Violent? Criminal psychologists doubt that.

With crimes like the rampage in Berlin, it can be assumed that a mental illness must be behind it – but according to experts, this is by no means always the case. “The mentally ill are no more violent than the average population, but when such spectacular cases occur, it naturally causes a stir in the media,” said the director of the clinic and university outpatient clinic for psychiatry and psychotherapy at the Charité Berlin, Isabella Heuser, the German press agency. This creates the impression that only the mentally ill are capable of such acts.

Only a third of violent offenders have a mental disorder

According to the criminal psychologist Karoline Roshdi, who advises, among other things, on dealing with threatening behavior and the prevention of serious violence and amok, only around a third of such acts are committed by people with mental disorders.

Mental illnesses – from anxiety disorders and depression to disorders caused by alcohol consumption, for example – are quite common in the population: According to the German Society for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Psychosomatics and Neurology, almost 28 percent of the adult population are affected by a mental illness every year. That corresponds to around 17.8 million people.

Perpetrator admitted to psychiatric hospital after driving amok

According to the public prosecutor’s office, the driver from Berlin should come to a psychiatric ward. There is evidence that the 29-year-old suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, it said. Drugs were found during a search of his home. Berlin’s Senator for the Interior, Iris Spranger (SPD), reported that the man had often been noticed by the police in the past, that there had been investigations into bodily harm, trespassing and insults.

On Wednesday morning, the man raced near the Memorial Church on the sidewalks of Ku’damm and Tauentzienstraße. According to the latest information, a teacher was killed and 32 people injured, including many 10th grade students from Hesse.

Driving amok: Mental disorders occur again and again

Another case in which a mentally ill man went on a rampage occurred in Heidelberg in February 2017: a 35-year-old crashed into a group of people. A 73-year-old man died. The perpetrator was committed to a psychiatric hospital.

A year later, in April 2018, a similar case happened in Münster. Another man crashed into a group of people. Five people died and more than 20 were injured. The man then shot himself. The investigators assume that the perpetrator was mentally ill.

There was also a rampage in Bottrop and Essen. In January 2019, a mentally ill right-wing extremist steered his car into revelers in both places, whom he mistook for foreigners. 14 people were injured. The man was taken to the closed psychiatric ward.

Criminal psychologist: “Imitation dynamics” possible in 2016

Despite this list, the clinic director Heuser emphasizes that these are isolated cases. She cannot conclusively answer the question of what moves such perpetrators. “If the perpetrator actually has a mental disorder, then the causes are very different.” They ranged from depression to paranoid psychoses.

Roshdi is a little more specific: In the current case, a lot is still unclear, so an accurate assessment is difficult. In such cases, however, schizophrenia with paranoia is often present. In the current case, in view of the special crime scene – the Islamist attack was nearby in 2016 – “imitation dynamics” can also be considered.

On the question of how predictable such acts are, the criminal psychologist says that risk assessments can be made, for which there are also solid instruments – “but this is a snapshot for the here and now”. Violent fantasies and the experience of crises could contribute to people getting into such exceptional states. “What we have relatively often is that shortly before such an act is committed, something happens that morally shakes the perpetrators very badly,” said Roshdi.

Preventing rampages remains complicated

The problem with prevention is that perpetrators often do not disclose their violent fantasies, says Heuser. Some of them made aggressive or gloomy comments on social media, for example. “But the sad truth is that you only find out about all this after the fact.”

If the people around a possible perpetrator overhear such aggressive statements, they should communicate with him in the first place. In addition, there are, for example, violence prevention centers that you can call, says Heuser.

But such an act is particularly shocking for the victims and their families. They often need psychological support after such an experience. According to Heuser, you have to provide them with an emergency chaplain immediately. That probably worked out well after learning the lessons from the terrorist attack on Breitscheidplatz in 2016. Emergency chaplains were on site immediately.