Mental Illness and Violence

What is the relationship between mental illness and violent crime?


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Mental health problems are a leading cause of burden of disease globally (Vos et al., 2013). In the UK, mental health problems account for 28% of the burden of diseases, more than any other illness, in comparison with heart diseases and cancer at 16%, respectively (Ferrari et al., 2013). McManus et al. (2009) report that one out of four individuals in the UK will experience one form of mental illness or another in any given year. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has identified generalized anxiety disorder, depression, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder as the most common mental health problems (NICE, 2011). Violence is also a leading social issue of public health significance (Home Office, 2010). Gentile, Coyne and Walsh (2011) describe violence as physical aggression against others. The World Health Organization (WHO) has provided a more elaborate and internationally accepted definition of violence. According to WHO,  violence can be defined as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation” (Krug, 2002, p. 5).  The association between mental illness and violence has been the subject of various debates across the academic, medical, and societal circles.  The media has especially been singled out for playing a crucial role in portraying that individuals with mental illness are generally violent. The focus of this paper therefore is to explore various the findings of various studies on the subject under study to establish whether there is a relationship between mental illness and violence.


Relationship between mental illness and violence

The level to which mental illness influence violent behaviour and the comparative significance of psychiatric morbidity relative to other risk factors remains a controversial area of ongoing research.  To tackle the issue of if there is a relationships between violence and mental health problems, various research designs have thus far been used, such as cross-sectional studies that explores the prevalence of violence among individuals with mental health disorders and, equally, rates of mental health problems among perpetrators of violence, such as offenders. Even as such studies point towards a positive association between violence and mental health problems, they are likely to result in selection bias given their tendency to samples persons detained in psychiatric or criminal justice settings (The British Psychological Society and The Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2015).

In spite of the growing public perception of a relationship between mental health illnesses (especially such severe mental health problems as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) and violence, research evidence backing this link is somewhat mixed. Not only are most individuals with a mental health problem never violent, but they have been shown to be at a higher risk of falling victims to crime, as opposed to being perpetrators (Pettit et al., 2013). Corker et al. (2011) carried out a study to assess discrimination among service users of mental health facilities across England between 2008 and 2011. Study findings revealed that 14% of national newspaper articles across England addressing mental health problems described mental health patients as posing a danger to the general population (Corker et al., 2011). However, Howard et al. (2014) report that most individuals with a mental disorder are not violent and that most of the violent individuals do not have a mental disorder. Elsewhere, Friedman (2006) report that people diagnosed with various forms of mental disorders are 3-5% more likely to be violent compared to the general population. Some studies have been reportedly inconsistent given their inability to 

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