Mentally Ill More Often Victims Of Violence Than Perpetrators: Study

THURSDAY Feb. 27, 2014, 2014 -- People with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of violent acts, a new study shows.

Within a six-month period of time, nearly one-third of adults with a mental health disorder are victimized, the study revealed.

The researchers also found a strong association between enduring a violent act and committing one. They suggested that reducing violence against mentally ill people could help protect others in the community as well.

"We hear about the link between violence and mental illness in the news, and we wanted to look not only at the notion that the mentally ill are a danger to others, but the possibility that they are also in danger," study author Dr. Sarah Desmarais, an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, said in a school news release.

The researchers examined surveys completed by 4,480 adults with mental illness about committing violence and being the victim of violence in the past six months.

The information compiled included findings from five previous studies that focused on a variety of issues, such as antipsychotic medications and treatment approaches. These previous studies also questioned adults with mental health issues about acting out violently and being the victim of violence.

The study, published online recently in the American Journal of Public Health, revealed that about 24 percent of people with mental illness had committed a violent act within the previous six months.

Adults with mental illness who become violent are more likely to act out in a home setting than out in public, the researchers found. Most of these acts, or 63.5 percent, took place in a home. Only 2.6 percent of these acts of violence occurred at school or the workplace.

Meanwhile, a higher percentage of these adults with mental illness were the victim of violence. The study showed that nearly 31 percent were victimized during this same time period. Of these people, about 44 percent said they faced violence on more than one occasion.

"We also found that participants who had been victims of violence were 11 times more likely to commit violence. This highlights the need for more robust public health interventions that are focused on violence," Desmarais said.

"It shouldn't just be about preventing adults with mental illness from committing violent acts, it should also be about protecting those at risk of being victimized," she continued. "For one thing, it's the right thing to do. In addition, while correlation is not necessarily causation, preventing violence against the mentally ill may drive down instances of violence committed by the mentally ill."

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about violence and mental illness.

Posted: February 2014


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