Mentally Ill Often Victims of Violent Crime

TUESDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- People with severe mental illness are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence, according to a U.S. study published in the August issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study, which included 936 randomly selected patients from 16 outpatient, day or residential mental health agencies in Chicago, found that more than 25 percent of those with severe mental illness were victims of violent crime within the previous year. That's more than 12 times the rate in the general population.

The rates for specific types of violent crime -- such as robbery, assault and sexual assault -- among people with severe mental illness ranged from six to 23 times greater than for people in the general population.

The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine study also found that the annual incidence of violent crime experienced by people with severe mental illness was more than four times greater than in the general population.

"People associate mental disorder with violence. We found that crime and mental disorder are linked, but not in the way people think. Persons with severe mental disorders are terribly vulnerable to victimization," study author Linda A. Teplin, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said in a prepared statement.

"Since deinstitutionalization in the mid-1960s, people with severe mental illness have had no choice but to live in the community. But we have denied them basic needs, such as safe housing, supportive services and adequate mental health treatment," Teplin said.

She and her colleagues recommended that mental health treatment include screening for victimization and prevention programs to teach people with mental illness how to reduce their risk of being victims of crime.