Mental illness alone not linked to violence

Mon Sep 6, 2010 4:11pm EDT
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder alone do not make people more violent, but the tendency of people with psychiatric problems to abuse drugs or alcohol does, scientists said on Monday.

Experts have long sought to understand the link between mental illness and violence and these findings suggest that the widespread public perception that psychiatric disorders alone make people more prone to violent crime is flawed.

Researchers from Britain and Sweden who studied rates of violent crime among people with severe mental disorders said it appeared that the higher risk of substance abuse is the key.

They found that while rates of violent crime are higher among people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia than in the general population, they are similar in people with mental illness and those who abuse substances but are not mentally ill.

When the results were adjusted to removed the influence of alcohol or illegal drug abuse, rates of violence among psychiatric patients were barely changed from levels in the general population, they said.

"Substance abuse is really the key mediator of violent crime. If you take away the substance abuse, the contribution of the very minimal," said Seena Fazel of Oxford University's department of psychiatry, who led a study.

"It is probably more dangerous to be walking outside a pub on a late night that it is to be walking outside a hospital where mental health patients are being released."

Previous studies have shown that around 20 percent of people with bipolar disorder abuse alcohol and drugs, and this compares with around 2 percent of the general population. Around a quarter of people with schizophrenia abuse drugs and alcohol.   Continued...