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.

5 responses on “Study Shows Mentally Ill More Likely to Be Victims, Not Perpetrators, of Violence

  1. paulette jenkins says:

    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

  2. Cecilia says:

    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. Rick says:

      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.

  3. Evanne Clark says:

    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. Certain says:

    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?

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