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Violence and Mental Illness: Victims, Not Perpetrators

Violence and Mental Illness: Victims, Not PerpetratorsAs lawmakers across the country continue to pass ill-conceived laws implicating people with mental illness as having a greater penchant for violence (despite the scientific evidence that says otherwise), a new study has come out showing what most mental health advocates have long known. People with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.

The study — published in the BMJ and conducted on data derived from the entire population of Sweden (can we say, “Big study!”) — found “After adjustment for sociodemographic confounders, any mental disorder was associated with a 4.9-fold risk of homicidal death, relative to people without mental disorders.”

In plain English — people with mental illness in Sweden were at nearly 5 times the risk of being murdered than citizens without a mental illness diagnosis.

Rather than wasting time passing laws to try and minimize outlier, tragic events (which, by their very definition, cannot be minimized by the passage of new laws), we instead should be putting more resources into protecting and helping treat people with mental illness.

The researchers examined the 615 homicidal deaths that occurred in Sweden from 2001 to 2008, in a population of over 7 million. Just to put that 615 into some perspective, that’s nearly the number of murders in just one year in New York City (ranging from 414 – 536/year in the past few years; NYC has a population of over 8 million).

The researchers looked at a wealth of demographic data and characteristics — such as gender, race and income — to ensure these variables might not be contributing to the relationship the researchers found.

They found that the risk of being murdered was highest, at nine-fold, for people with substance use disorders, a number that may of course be subject to confounding lifestyle variables. But it was also increased for people with other mental illnesses in a way that couldn’t be explained by substance use.

Those with diagnosed personality disorders, for example, had a 3.2 times increased risk of being a victim of murder. For depression, the risk was increased by a factor of 2.6, for anxiety disorders, 2.2, and for schizophrenia, 1.8.

Some were at even greater risk than others. “Unmarried males with low socioeconomic status were particularly likely to be victimized; they were also at a heightened risk for suicide or accidental death, as previous studies have already established.”

The researchers concluded,

In this large […] study, people with mental disorders, including those with substance use disorders, personality disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia, had greatly increased risks of homicidal death. Interventions to reduce violent death among people with mental disorders should tackle victimization and homicidal death in addition to suicide and accidents, which share common risk factors.

And yet has any lawmaker in the U.S. suggested a law to better help and protect the population most at risk for becoming a victim of violence?

Not a one.


Read the full article: Study: People With Mental Illness Are Five Times More Likely to Be Murdered


Crump et al. (2013). Mental disorders and vulnerability to homicidal death: Swedish nationwide cohort study. BMJ, 346. doi:

Violence and Mental Illness: Victims, Not Perpetrators

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Violence and Mental Illness: Victims, Not Perpetrators. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 12 Mar 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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