Mentally ill: Victims rather than perpetrators of violence

August 25, 2009 by  

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hand_hang_onThose with mental disorders are to be feared and looked upon a people of violent and criminal tendencies. This is the stereotype of the mentally disordered. However, contrary to this common misconception, individuals with mental disorders actually tend to be victims rather than the perpetrator of violence. This is according to a study by researchers at Georgia State University.

Lead researcher Brent Teasdale, an assistant professor of criminal justice found that patients suffering from symptoms like delusions, disorientation and hallucinations tend to be victimized.  These are also the people who are prone to alcohol use and homelessness, thus making them even more vulnerable.

“They actually have higher rates of victimization than they have of violence commission, which I think is counter to the stereotype that highly symptomatic, obviously delusional, visibly mentally disordered people are dangerous, unpredictable and violent. There’s no one size fits all approach to these delusions, but the odds of victimization are multiplied almost by a factor of two when a person experiences these delusions.”

Mental disorders come with a stigma and those without mental problems tend to misinterpret the symptoms, actions and behavior of the mentally disordered, become defensive, and may even strike preemptively, all in the name of self-defense. Teasdale, however, believe that people tend to become overdefensive.

Teasdale looked at the data from the MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study, which is a longitudinal study of psychiatric patients released from three psychiatric hospitals. During the study, the participants were interviewed about violence committed against them, stress, symptoms and social relationships. The interviews were performed every 10 weeks for one year. The study findings showed that when symptoms of mental disorders worsened, that is when the patients are most vulnerable to violent behaviour from others. This is because these are the times when the patients are “focused on their internal states and have fewer cognitive resources available to devote to interactions with other people.”

The finding…of the study suggest

Teasdale concludes:

The stereotypes persist because people are unaware of the victimization risk to people with mental illness. If they learned that victimization risk were higher than the violence commission rates, I think that would help alleviate some of that stigma and help people think about people with mental disorders in a different way.”

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