Is Hatred a Mental Illness?

Crazy Yelling Bearded ManFrom the tidal wave of devastation in the wake of the latest mass murder by someone whose hand was on the trigger of a weapon, the purpose of which is meant for obliteration of life, arises the question: ‘Is hatred a mental illness?”

Omar Mateen, a 29 year- old man who murdered with a purpose, 49 people and wounded numerous other in a venue in Orlando, carried hatred in his heart for those he perceived as threatening.

A New York Times article indicates, “Mr. Mateen had a chilling history that included talking about killing people, beating his former wife and voicing hatred of minorities, gays and Jews; most of his victims were gay, Latino or both.”

In this case, the patrons of The Pulse, a Gay club in Orlando who were enjoying an evening of revelry, when shots rang out, were part of the LGBTQ community and the majority were Latino.

A Variety of Opinions

When posing the question on social media, “Is hatred a mental illness?” I received mixed responses. Most, including other clinicians, were in agreement, that although entrenched hatred does not carry a DSM-5 code, it might as well, since it fuels the fire of violent criminal activity. One person expressed quite vehemently that calling hatred a mental illness, stigmatizes those who are clinically diagnosed.

Another career social worker expressed her professional opinion that it was not a diagnosable mental illness, but indeed was a learned behavior that was either planted and/or reinforced in the family of origin, social circles or culture in which the person was raised.

The lyrics from the classic song performed in the Rogers and Hammerstein 1949 Broadway musical South Pacific called You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught speaks directly to this dynamic:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Rogers and Hammerstein

There are those who would agree with both the lay person and clinician, as is expressed in an opinion piece, “In reality, none of these crimes are about mental illness, and saying otherwise is not only false, but it also perpetuates stigma that the mentally ill are dangerous, leads to more crime against the mentally ill and pushes those struggling with illness farther away from help.”.

There are a number of psycho-social factors leading to violent acts. This article is not intending to reinforce fears or stereotypes that those with mental health diagnoses are prone to violence.

An Expert Weighs In

Harvard University psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, M.D. proposes the idea,

“Extreme racism is treatable, and sometimes even lesser forms of racism are treatable because they have psychodynamics to them,” he told Nightline. “They don’t exist as a social problem, they … exist as psychological problems inside the individual.”

Is Hatred a Mental Illness?

Edie Weinstein Moser, MSW, LSW

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a journalist and interviewer, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, radio host and best-selling author. A free-lance journalist, her writing has been printed in publications and on sites such as The Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Beliefnet, Identity, Inner Child Magazine, New Visions, Holistic Living, Conversations, Bellesprit, The Whirling Blog, The Doylestown Intelligencer, The Philadelphia Inquirer, YogaLiving, Wisdom, Mystic Pop, In Your Prime, the “What The Bleep Do We Know?” website and The Bucks County Writer. She has been interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fox 29 news, CBS 3 news, WWDB 96.5 and National Public Radio as well as numerous blog talk stations. Check out her website at:


APA Reference
Weinstein Moser, E. (2016). Is Hatred a Mental Illness?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 18 Jun 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Jun 2016
Published on All rights reserved.