Severely mentally ill more likely victims than perpetrators of violence

Going against conventional wisdom, this study supports the fact that those who suffer mental illness are not as likely to be perpetrators of violence, but rather victims.

More than one-fourth of individuals with severe mental illness were victims of violent crime in the past year, almost 12 times general population rates, according to a study in the August issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

Depending on the type of violent crime (rape/sexual assault, robbery and assault), prevalence was six to 23 times greater among persons with severe mental illness than among the general population, said lead author Linda A. Teplin, Owen L. Coon Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

In addition, the annual incidence of violent crime in persons with severe mental illness who live in the community is more than four times higher than that in the general population, said Teplin, who is director of the Psycho-Legal Studies Program at Feinberg.

Teplin and her colleagues administered the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) to 936 randomly selected patients from 16 outpatient, day or residential mental health agencies in Chicago, and compared results with those of the 32,450 participants in the annual NCVS conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Research has shown that individuals with mental disorders who live in the community are a vulnerable population at high risk for becoming victims of crime. Symptoms associated with severe mental illness, such as disorganized thought processes, impulsivity and poor planning and problem solving may compromise one’s ability to perceive risks and protect oneself, Teplin and colleagues suggested.