Mentally Ill Are 2.5 Times More Likely To Be Murdered; Challenging Assumptions About Mental Illness And Violence

Mentally Ill 2.5 Times More Likely To Be Murdered Than Others
A new study challenges popular notions about the mentally ill as violent and dangerous, finding that people with mental illnesses are 2.5 times more likely than others to be murdered. Photo courtesy ofShutterstock

People with mental illness are far more likely to be victimized by violence than to perpetrate it, psychologists in the United Kingdom say, after publishing a study they hope will change attitudes about the “mentally ill.”

Published in mid-June in The Lancet, the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness analyzed data for victims and perpetrators of nearly 1,500 homicides recorded during the years 2003 to 2005 in England and Wales. People with known mental illness were 2.5 times more likely than others to get murdered, the researchers found.

Yet, to be fair, many of those murder victims with mental illness were killed by other people with mental illness, particularly those institutionalized with other patients. In the study, six percent of homicide victims had used mental health services during the preceding year. Of those 90 mental health patients, 29 were killed by another patient — with most of the perpetrators and victims known to each other as co-patients at the same treatment facility. In seven of the homicides, both victim and perpetrator had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, suggesting that health providers should identify and protect patients at risk of violence.

“The high risk of patients with mental illness being victims of homicide is an important anti-stigma message, although this risk partly comes from other patients with mental illness,” the researchers acknowledge in the study.

Still, more than one-third of people believe mental illness makes a person more likely to commit acts of violence, according to the Time to Change campaign, led by the mental health charities Mind and Rethink. People with mental illness are “extremely unlikely to be dangerous” and are most often victimized by violence, according to Beth Murphy, head of information at the non-profit organization Mind.

"Our most recent investigation found that people with mental health problems are five times more likely to be a victim of assault than the general population," she told IBT UK. "A link between violence and mental health is made often and is unhelpful because it creates a stigma which can stop people seeking help. The more we can raise awareness and combat damaging myths about mental health through campaigns such as ‘Time to Change,’ the less stigma will be associated with mental health problems."

Study leader Louis Appleby, of the University of Manchester, said that society has historically been more concerned about the risk people with mental illness pose to the general population. "However, our findings show that specialist mental health providers in England and Wales can expect one of their patients to be the victim of homicide roughly every two years,” he said.

Source: Rodway C, Flynn S, While D, et al. Patients with mental illness as victims of homicide: a national consecutive case series. The Lancet. 2014.

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