Mental Illness Increases Risk of Being Homicide Victim

Time - Health

Studies and media coverage of violence and mental illness tends to focus on the mentally ill as potential perpetrators— but a new study suggests that having a mental illness increases the risk of being a victim of murder nearly fivefold. Researchers led by Casey Crump of Stanford University report in the BMJ on a study of homicides occurring in  Sweden, among a population of around 7.2 million residents, between 2001 and 2008.  Using data from country’s national registries, they determined whether or not the victims had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness, either at as an outpatient or in a hospital. During the study period, 615 people became victims of homicide, and 23% of them had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness, compared with 9% rate of mental illness diagnoses in the general population. After adjusting for other factors that affect the risk of mental illness, such as sex and age, the odds of being murdered were around five times higher for the mentally ill. “Popular media reporting portrays mental illness as posing a threat to the safety of others and these continual stigmatizing portrayals may make the violent victimization of an already marginalized section of society more likely,” the authors of an editorial that accompanied the article write. MORE: The Link Between Marijuana and Schizophrenia The risk varied with the diagnosis, and having a substance use disorder appeared to pose the biggest threat of victimization. Since at least half of people with mental illnesses also have an addiction, this significantly contributes to their chances of becoming a target of violent crime: the study found that people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders increased their risk of being murdered nine-fold compared to the general population, while those with mental illness and no substance problems were only at twice the risk of homicide. The study was not designed to determine how much of this heightened risk is due to the violence that results from the trafficking of illegal drugs, and how much is linked with the actual effects of