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

Posted on March 21, 2014 6:50 am by Lauren Kirkpatrick 1 Comment

Sarah Desmarais

Sarah Desmarais

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.

“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 done by researchers at NC State University; RTI International; the University of California, Davis; Simon Fraser University; and Duke University.

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.

Kiersten Johnson is a doctoral student in the Psychology in the Public Interest program.

Kiersten Johnson is a doctoral student in the Psychology in the Public Interest program.

“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 doctoral student in the Psychology in the Public Interest program 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.

By Matt Shipman, NC State News Services

Posted in Faculty, Graduate Programs, Psychology, Research, Students

One Response to “Study Shows Mentally Ill More Likely to be Victims, Not Perpetrators, of Violence”

  1. John says:

    This is an interesting study. I wonder if it considered violence perpetrated by those with mental illness against those with mental illness. That could have a pretty big impact on the significance of the numbers. Some mentally ill people might be in proximity with others with mental illness. Still a useful study.

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