History of Mental Illness Fails to Predict Future Violence

A new multi-year study of detained youth finds that most psychiatric disorders, including depression, do not predict future violent behavior.

Northwestern Medicine researchers believe the findings are especially timely given recent current events.

“Our findings are relevant to the recent tragic plane crash in the French Alps. Our findings show that no one could have predicted that the pilot, who apparently suffered from depression, would perpetrate this violent act,” said corresponding author Linda Teplin, Ph.D.

“It is not merely a suicide, but an act of mass homicide.”

An exception to the findings are that a history of substance abuse and dependence may be linked to increased incidence of violent behavior. Also, some delinquent youth with current psychiatric illness may be violent.

In this case, investigators describe a situation in which males with mania were more than twice as likely to report current violence than those without. However, the association did not necessarily suggest a cause and effect relationship.

Researchers discovered delinquent youth with psychiatric illness often have multiple risk factors such as living in violent and impoverished neighborhoods. These environments may increase their risk for violent behavior as well as worsen their psychiatric illness.

“Providing comprehensive treatment to persons with some psychiatric disorders could reduce violence,” said Katherine Elkington, Ph.D., study first author and an assistant professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry at Columbia University Medical School.

“We must improve how we address multiple problems, including violent behavior, as part of psychiatric treatment.”

The article was recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The study used data from the Northwestern Juvenile Project, a longitudinal study of youth who were detained at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago between 1995 and 1998.

Violence and psychiatric disorders were assessed via self-report in 1,659 youth aged 13 to 25 years interviewed up to four times between three and five years after detention.

Source: Northwestern Medicine/EurekAlert!