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Weak Link Found Between Mental Illness And Violence

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Mental illness alone is not shown to cause violence, according to a new study. However, the combination of substance abuse and mental illness may be a strong predictor of future violence.

Mentally ill people are no more prone to violence than the rest of us according to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine who performed the study about mental illness and violence.

Eric B. Elbogen, Ph.D, lead author of the study, and assistant professor in the forensic psychiatry program at UNC , says "Our study shows that a link between mental illness and violence does exist, but it's not as strong as most people think. The study showed a combination of factors predicts violent behavior. "We found that several other factors – history of past violence or substance abuse or a recent divorce or loss of one's job – are much more predictive of future violence than mental illness alone," Elbogen adds.

Sally C. Johnson, M.D, who co-authored the research, says the perception portrayed by the media that mental illness causes people to be more violent is "just not correct". She adds, "The data shows it is simplistic as well as inaccurate to say the cause of violence among mentally ill individuals is the mental illness itself …"

The study, which included interviews completed by 34,653 people was conducted in two parts, between 2001 and 2005. The first part, from 2001 to 2002 included data collection regarding mental illness including major depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. The second part of the study was used to predict whether mental illness could be linked to future violence.

The top ten predictors of violence in order of predictive value include:

· Younger age

· Male gender

· History of violence

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· Juvenile detention

· Recent divorce or separation

· Unemployment for a year

· Parents who are criminals

· Physical abuse history

· Mental illness with substance abuse

· Recent victimization

The study concluded that the link between mental illness alone and future violence is weak. Even mental illness combined with substance abuse only ranks #9 among the top ten predictors of violence.

There are complex factors involved in why people engage in violent behavior. The link between mental illness and violence is weak according to the UNC study results.

Source: UNC study: Mental illness by itself does not predict future violent behavior