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Study Shows Mentally Ill More Likely to Be Victims, Not Perpetrators, of Violence

New research shows that almost one-third of adults with mental illness are likely to be victims of violence within a six-month period, and that adults with mental illness who commit violence are most likely to do so in residential settings. The study also finds a strong correlation between being a victim of violence and committing a violent act.

The work was done by researchers at North Carolina State University; RTI International; the University of California, Davis; Simon Fraser University; and Duke University.

“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,” says Dr. Sarah Desmarais, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the work.

The researchers compiled a database of 4,480 mentally ill adults who had answered questions about both committing violence and being victims of violence in the previous six months. The database drew from five earlier studies that focused on issues ranging from antipsychotic medications to treatment approaches. Those studies had different research goals, but all asked identical questions related to violence and victimization.

The researchers found that 23.9 percent of the study participants had committed a violent act within the previous six months. The majority of those acts – 63.5 percent – were committed in residential settings, not in public. Only 2.6 percent of the violent acts were committed in school or workplace settings.

The researchers found that a significantly higher percentage of participants – 30.9 percent – had been victims of violence in the same time period. And of those who said they were victimized, 43.7 percent said they’d been victimized on multiple occasions.

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

“For one thing, it’s the right thing to do,” Desmarais adds. “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.”

The paper, “Community Violence Perpetration and Victimization Among Adults With Mental Illnesses,” is published online in the American Journal of Public Health. The paper was co-authored by Dr. Richard Van Dorn of RTI International; Kiersten Johnson, a graduate student at NC State; Dr. Kevin Grimm of University of California, Davis; Dr. Kevin Douglas of Simon Fraser University; and Dr. Marvin Swartz of Duke University.

The study was supported by the National Institute for Mental Health under grant number R01MH093426 to Van Dorn.


Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Community Violence Perpetration and Victimization Among Adults With Mental Illnesses”

Authors: Sarah L. Desmarais and Kiersten L. Johnson, North Carolina State University; Richard A. Van Dorn, RTI International; Kevin J. Grimm, University of California, Davis; Kevin S. Douglas, Simon Fraser University; and Marvin S. Swartz, Duke University

Published: online February 2014, American Journal of Public Health

DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301680

Abstract: Objectives. In a large heterogeneous sample of adults with mental illnesses, we examined the 6-month prevalence and nature of community violence perpetration and victimization, as well as associations between these outcomes. Methods. Baseline data were pooled from 5 studies of adults with mental illnesses from across the United States (n=4480); the studies took place from 1992 to 2007. The MacArthur Community Violence Screening Instrument was administered to all participants. Results. Prevalence of perpetration ranged from 11.0% to 43.4% across studies, with approximately one quarter (23.9%) of participants reporting violence. Prevalence of victimization was higher overall (30.9%), ranging from 17.0% to 56.6% across studies. Most violence (63.5%) was perpetrated in residential settings. The prevalence of violence-related physical injury was approximately 1 in 10 overall and 1 in 3 for those involved in violent incidents. There were strong associations between perpetration and victimization. Conclusions. Results provided further evidence that adults with mental illnesses experienced violent outcomes at high rates, and that they were more likely to be victims than perpetrators of community violence. There is a critical need for public health interventions designed to reduce violence in this vulnerable population.

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  1. I’m in California these are actual facts thru therapy if took me more than 9 months to painfully admit I was beign batted by my fiancée up to this point you may believe I’m a female .
    No not I’m a 38 year old man.

    Well Police came interview me my son ask questions we identiiy my ex fiancée as the perpetrator
    She even admits it to Police
    They refuse to arrest her after I insisted

    I heard them both laughing in streeef I front of my home Officer Hedland of Pomona Police Dept in Ca. Said this was all some BS a therapist put in my head you know how painful that was to finally come out in relate. And when I finally did so I felt relief for five minutes then after ilits been been 60 days since it took place and I feel 10 times worst than I have ever felt in my life and to top it off. I haven’t seen my son for 60 days and she’s keeping my son away from me .

    In a few days I will be homeless without my family “I trusted in therapy and a psychiatrist Who told me that I can trust in the system and the courts and in the police” but they Assured me that this would be resolved .

    I hate the day I I admitted to being a victim of violence it Has been the very the worst day of my life .”

    I know this post is not to date but if you read this and have any help. Pls save me from the streets and leave info in Forum

    1. Sir, though I can’t save you from the streets since I’m on the verge of homelessness myself, I can at least affirm that there are other male victims of violence, for I am also one. I have been subjected to all the same sorts of humiliation, ridicule and injustice as you describe. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any way for us to contact each other. It looks like email addresses are kept private–and believe me, you and I wouldn’t want it any other way. In the unlikely event that the staff of this publication are reviewing these messages beneath old articles, I do give permission for my email address to be released to Dennis M but only Dennis M–please do not publish it. Regardless of whether there’s any way for us to further communicate, you’re far from alone Dennis. That doesn’t make it much better, I realize. But remember that the world still needs you, because none of us wants to be alone, that’s for sure.

      1. Adam I had to relocate and I do apologize that I did not get back to you in anytime sooner but I have checked your message and I appreciate your support

        I desire and ask God that you may find yourself well and safe . My progress in this case has been slow this incident occurred in March 11 2017

        I have communicated with California state senator representatives

        Theu have been supportive and I currently am trying to have this Police report filed truthfully accurately and including the admission of violence of my ex fiancé towards myself and my son to Officer H

        I would like to communicate with you please reply we will figure this out new I please stay positive my friend and Dear Brother

        ” MY. TRAGEDY. “That was a time when therapy was once my safe haven a refugee a secure place to be to ease my pain help me to relieve myself when I was sad and get back on my feet again. I got to understand the real me i let go of my fears and gave myself an opportunity . I discovered I can open up and
        Live again and discover within yourself you can also be your friend using practices methods tools they gave away no doubt these tools could be used to save the

        until until the day came when this all went away I talk to my therapist for six months or more I still deep inside had something in my head thinking back twice I should’ve kept it stored she noticed signs of stress as the subject slowly of my fiancé almost every therapy day

        I tried I resisted hard not to open I up I refused

        weird to say she asked me please I notice that somethings on your mind is bothering you please open up you can trust you will receive the help and stop the abuse .

        and one day in December I almost did but then I thought of the many times Diana would get upset at me and prevent me from seeing my kid and so I told her it’s not worth it I won’t .

        as much as I hated it I would consume the pain of the physical beatings I’d prefer they remain
        She described the changes and I imagine and out of the darkness me and my son would be I would look to the miss into the light and he would still be near me

        it all made sense that finally I decided to file police report and get my perpetrator into a batters program thru court .it sounded hopeful and promising so one day with tears I told her I would trust her but that first of all I had to describe my fears

        she advised me that by law a report of violence would be take little did I know the words I painfully spoke would be “”mocked and minimized not ever seriously taken “”.Never did I ever think I would the day to see the words that I spoke to would be twisted To misrepresent me .

        that the Officer on scene would tell my perpetrator that this is all placed in my head by a therapist

        as it did in the past before with my fiancée became the 2nd person to assault me and with police having knowledge enabling The violent perpetrator walk clear out the door

        If I told her I didn’t believe in the system anymore she told me to have faith because that was the before
        I thought about the abuse for the past six years I decided to proceed believing that justice was near

        INever the following events that took place never did I expect The beginning of my 200 + days that’ she abducted my son would take place

        so I release the pain slowly with tears having faith that relief was near

        I feel worst now then what I did all those violent years
        I believed I found relief for the longest time in my life I felt like I had removed from my heart a large knife

        Until the day the police showed up and me and my son positively identified Diana as Our physical aggressor not even when she was questioned if she had displayed violence towards us did she deny It

        no one explained to me what the police would do
        To cone out question me then humiliate me and my son and then turn around and laugh at youI

        I wasn’t taken seriously I saw her and the cop laughing outside together I knew that very moment that things would not get better and I was right for the very few days she took my kid she has kidnapped him illegally and from me she has hid my son

        Even the detective failed to ever speak to me since the beginning of time crime was reported and let my offender walkaway a violent offender evading the law after commuting a crime

        Violating all my rights as a victim protected by Marcy’s law and then it became the crumble of my life of depression again to Fall

        This gets worst my room is broken into my documents were taken I went to the judge asked for a restraining orders and told was told a crime has never taken place
        In a flash I remembered scenarios of all the beatings that took place

        All I I can offer is one kind word of advice if you or somebody you know is getting beaten keep your mouth shut enjoy the times and the the memories while thier nice

  2. Why are they more likely to be victims of violence though. Is it because the perpetrators are unable to control their frustration to the way a person with a mental illness can sometimes act? Or is it because they unknowingly put themselves in risky situations, or are they directly targeted because of their illness because the perpetrator thinks they deserve it or that they won’t report it?

  3. It is unbelievable what I’ve seen. Easy for sadistic rotten people to do. They get away with this. Can drive some to suicide. Perfect murder. No weapon, no blood on their hands. Pathetic. Tooele utah has this mastered.

  4. I’m glad that someone is paying attention! I personally have been diagnosed as having bipolar with psychotic features. Just this year, I have been raped, sexually assualted, and physically abused.

    I hope that this information hits mainstream media very soon. Although my particular disorder puts me at increased risk of being a victim of a violent or sexual crime, I’ve noticed that a good portion of people that I interact with start treating me as though I could “snap” at any minute. Because of this, I have a very small social circle that is similarly effected by mental illness.

    Do I want “normal” friends? Not necessarily. I just don’t want to be looked at as though I could burst into violence at the slightest provocation. I’m naturally a very calm and pascifistic person even when I’m in the middle of a psychotic episode.

    1. Cecilia, I am sorry to hear about what you’ve been put through.

      The capacity of human beings to inflict emotional, mental, and physical abuse – particularly to those different than the average conformity of human society – has always astounded me, but no more so than now, observing adults masquerade as civilized members of society while simultaneously perpetrating the same sadistic behavior as childhood bullies.

      After being bullied and beat up for most of my childhood for not being “normal”, just last year I was triggered into my first fullblown manic episode by my manager when he threatened to confine me in a conference room until I finished with what he wanted – even though I said it would take days – and then physically assaulted me because I simply said “no” with a half tremulous and half forceful tone. I ended up curled in a corner in fear until help arrived. The resulting manic episode was not fun, and officially makes me Bipolar I, particularly with the ensuing psychosis.

      My entire life has been one long, endless and overall futile attempt to ward off abuse in one form or another from “normal” people due to the fact that I’m clearly not “normal” and I can’t pretend or act as if I am. That’s really not overstating it.

  5. My son has mental illness is now in jail has not had a structured day program has had poor drs began to drink became violent several times can’t live completely on his own I cannot help him anymore and get very little help aurora assossiation in aurora I’ll would not let him attend groups anymore and after that he had no structure and started drinking and got in serious trouble