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No mental health myth causes more harm than the nonsense that people living with mental illness are violent. Here are the facts.
Maybe the most harmful baseless myth about mental illness is that it makes you violent. Movies, TV, games and even the news often tell us a false, highly stigmatising story that people experiencing mental illness are violent.
It’s not true. Research consistently shows there is no evidence that people living with mental illness are generally more violent than anyone else.
Rates of violence against people with mental illness are much higher than for the general population, especially those with complex mental illness and psychotic illnesses. People with mental illness are also more at risk of homicide, suicide and self-harm.
Violence is not a symptom of psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia. The causal link between psychosis and violence is inconclusive.
There is a slightly higher likelihood of violent behaviour among people with psychotic illness, but analysis of many studies suggests that this may be more the result of abusing drugs or alcohol, not receiving proper treatment or having a history of violent behaviour which is independent of the illness.
Among the strongest risk factors for aggressive behaviour are:
This doesn’t mean that people like this are all violent, or that other people can’t be violent. But crime statistics show that these factors have a much stronger influence than mental illness over a person’s likelihood to act violently.
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Stuart, H. (2003). Violence and Mental Illness: an Overview. World Psychiatry. Volume 2(2), pp.121-124.
Peterson, J., Kennealy, P., Skeem, J. Bray, B. and Zvonkovic, A. (2014). How Often and How Consistently do Symptoms Directly Precede Criminal Behavior Among Offenders With Mental Illness?. Columbia University; Law and Human Behavior, online April 15, 2014
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McDonald, D. and Brown, M. (1996). Indicators of Aggressive Behaviour. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, p.2.