Are abusers mentally ill? Short answer: no. It is unlikely that abusers are mentally ill. Mental illness of any kind affects about 18% of the U.S. population in general and about 18% of abusive people too.1 Most abusers are perfectly sane, with no personality disorder 2 or mental illness of any kind.
Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to people living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. 3
No one can say your abuser is mentally ill without an official psychiatric diagnosis. Yes, some abusers are mentally ill. Some people became abusive after strokes, during dementia or while suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. However, the percentage of abusers who are mentally ill is the same as the percentage of the general population. Your abuser, male or female, is just as unlikely to suffer a mental illness as the next person you notice while out and about.
Knowing Our Abusers Are NOT Mentally Ill Sucks
It may feel comforting to imagine your abuser is mentally ill. It is easier to believe that your abuser is not at fault if he or she has an illness. However, remember that you define abuse. You decide if your loved one’s behavior is abusive or not. The abuser doesn’t get to tell you if she abuses you or not. And no matter the reason behind your partner’s abuse, you get to decide when enough is enough. You get to choose to protect yourself (or not) from mental, emotional, and physical violence.
That said, and knowing that my husband is not mentally ill, it is bone-chilling to realize that he abuses me with control. He knows what he’s doing (How Abusers Gain Control by Appearing to Lose It). And even if he does live with an undiagnosed mental illness, I can rely on this truth:
Abuse and mental illness are two separate issues. If in fact your partner does have a mental health concern, this is a separate issue to the abuse and he needs to work on and address both concerns. If he also abuses drugs or alcohol, this is a third issue that he needs to work on. None of these can be used as an excuse to abuse. ~From WhenLoveHurts.com
No matter how disassociated from reality my husband seems, he is not mentally ill. He’s a perfectly sane, controlling, abusive man. Most likely, your partner is sane, controlling and abusive on purpose too.
It Doesn’t Matter If Abusers Are Mentally Ill
It is very important to set strong personal boundaries whether or not your abuser is mentally ill. Here’s one that I particularly like, written by a person living with bipolar disorder:
Mental illness is no excuse for being abusive and will not be tolerated. If you persist on being verbally abusive, I will remove myself from the situation. If you continue, I will remove you from my life and get a restraining order if I have to. When I feel like I’m in danger, you hurt me, or you threat to kill yourself or me, I will notify authorities. ~From BipolarManifesto.com
He acts crazy but I feel crazy. My husband isn’t mentally ill, but his behavior causes me to doubt my sanity. In fact, I received a diagnosis of major depressive disorder and PTSD. Both started after I married Will. Is that crazy or what?!
Should I Stay or Should I Go? by Lundy Bancroft defines the difference between domestic abuse and mental illness.
1 Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among U.S. Adults, National Institute of Mental Health
2 Any Personality Disorder, National Institute of Mental Health
3 Mental Health Myths and Facts, US Department of Health and Human Services