Are People With Mental Illness More Violent
Than Other People?
IntelliHealth and the British Medical Journal
(BMJ), September 6, 2002
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The contribution of mental illness to societal violence is
modest, despite increasing public concern about the potential
for violence among mentally ill patients who have been treated
and reside in the community, write researchers in this week's
Recent studies suggest that patients with psychotic illness
alone have a modest increase in risk for violent behavior, but
the greatest risk is associated with personality disorder,
substance abuse, say the authors. Variables such as male sex,
young age, and lower socioeconomic status contribute a much
higher proportion to societal violence than the modest amount
attributable to mental illness.
If a person with mental illness is violent, however, it does
not necessarily mean that this is due to the illness; it may
be due to other coexisting risk variables, add the authors.
Overall, it seems that less than 10% of serious violence,
including homicide, is attributable to psychosis.
The evidence also contradicts the theory that the closing of
large psychiatric institutions over the past 30 years have
meant that a greater proportion of societal violence is
attributable to those with mental disorder.
Fear and stigma of mentally ill people have been exaggerated
by high profile and occasionally sensationalist reporting of
rare, albeit tragic, violent acts. Yet the scientific
literature refutes the stereotyping of all patients with
severe mental illness as dangerous, say the authors. It is
inappropriate that mental health policy and legislation should
be driven by preoccupation with risk of violence, rather than
the delivery of effective treatments in the community, they