Mental Illness and Violence: A Link?
Mental Illness Alone Doesn't Predict Violence, but Substance Abuse Increases Risk for Mentally Ill, Study Shows
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Mental Illness & Violence: Results continued...
When he looked at those with schizophrenia, 5.15% reported violent behavior
in the time period between the interviews. But when a person with schizophrenia
also had substance abuse or dependence problems, 12.66% reported violent
behavior in the time between the interviews.
The highest risk for violence was found in those who had mental illness, a
substance abuse problem, and a history of violence. These participants had 10
times the risk of violence than those who only had mental illness.
Other factors that predicted violent behavior included a history of juvenile
detention or physical abuse, having seen parental fighting, a recent divorce,
unemployment, or being victimized themselves. Being younger, male, and
low-income also boosted the chance of violence.
"There is a relationship [between mental illness and violence] but it's
much weaker than most people think," he tells WebMD.
"I think a lot of people think mental illness is the usual cause if not
the foremost cause of violence," Elbogen says, citing a survey in which 75%
of respondents said they considered people with mental illness as
But his study concludes that “the findings say mental illness is relevant
and you can see that throughout the data. But it's not really one of the
foremost causes of violent behavior [by itself] in our society."
Mental Illness & Violence: Second Opinions
Experts who reviewed the paper for WebMD say they hope the new research may
change mistaken perceptions toward those who are mentally ill.
"Having a severe mental illness alone doesn't predict anything," as
far as violence, says Philip Muskin, MD, professor of clinical psychiatry at
Columbia University in New York. The new results, he says, confirm some
other studies with similar results.
For those affected by the severe mental illnesses evaluated in the study,
Muskin says, "You are no more at risk for committing a violent act than
anyone in the population."
Paul Appelbaum, MD, former president of the American Psychiatric Association
and a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, says, "If you take
the body of data as a whole, I think what everyone would agree with is, if
there is an impact of mental illness on violent behavior it is not very great.
And there is no question that the overall contribution of people with serious
mental illness to violence in our society as a whole is quite small."