THE BLOG

The Link Between Serious Mental Illness and Violence

03/15/2011 03:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A new mental illness and violence study in the Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 2011 by Richard Van Dorn and others points to a significant, but modest association between mental illness and violence.

Those with serious mental illness, irrespective of substance abuse status, were significantly more likely to be violent than those with no mental or substance use disorders.
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A general consensus exists that severe mental illness (SMI) increases violence risk.

The link between untreated serious mental illness and violence is well-understood by most Americans who when surveyed say they do believe there is an association between mental illness and violence.

The link is understood by law makers. They created laws that allow for involuntary treatment of seriously mentally ill people who have a history of violence

The link is understood by prison and jail officials. They serve more seriously mentally ill people than hospitals.

The link is understood by police: They receive special training in handling seriously mentally ill people who become violent.

The link is understood by judges: They set up special courts for people with serious mental illness.

The link is understood by families of those with serious mental illness (like myself). They are most often the victims.

The link is understood by psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, sheriffs and others on the front lines of helping people with mental illness:

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey for 1993 to 1999, conducted by the Department of Justice, the annual rate of nonfatal, job-related, violent crime was 12.6 per 1000 workers in all occupations. Among physicians, the rate was 16.2 per 1000, and among nurses, 21.9 per 1000. But for psychiatrists and mental health professionals, the rate was 68.2 per 1000, and for mental health custodial workers, 69.0 per 1000.

In spite of the overwhelming research that shows a link between untreated serious mental illness and violence, certain advocates for the mentally ill do not recognize the association. They oppose involuntary treatment that can reduce violence.