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Mental illness alone not linked to violence


A new study claims that the number of violent crimes committed by mentally ill patients should not be blamed on the illness itself but rather on the abuse of drugs and alcohol.

Dr Seena Fazel, clinical senior lecturer in forensic psychiatry and honorary consultant forensic psychiatrist at the University of Oxford, said: “Most of the relationship between violent crime and serious mental illness can be explained by alcohol and substance abuse.

“That tends to be the thing that mediates the link between violence and the illness.”

He added that “if you take away the substance abuse, the contribution of the illness itself is minimal” or even non-existent.

Researchers believe that mental illness has a huge stigma attached to it, but part of the solution would actually be to tackle alcohol and drug abuse.

Dr Fazel added: “It’s probably more dangerous walking outside a pub on a late night than walking outside a hospital where patients have been released.”

Studies have shown that around 20% of people with bipolar disorder abuse alcohol and drugs compared with about 2% of the general population.

A quarter of people with schizophrenia abuse drugs and alcohol.

Dr Fazel said these groups often use drugs and alcohol as a way of getting relief from their psychiatric symptoms or as a way of countering the effects of medication, which have a sedative effect.

His latest study was carried out in Sweden, which collected a wide range of reliable data, and which is very similar to the UK in terms of crime and rates of mental illness.

The latest study was published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Tell us something that we didnt already know. Must be nice to earn money pontificating on the obvious.

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  • Indeed! Them wot live in ivory towers 'ave spoken!!

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  • Doesn't explain why they are still abusive on the wards even when the drugs are out of their system. I have been assaulted on many occasions in acute and elderly psychiatry wards by patients who have been detained for at least a month. Patients don't always admit to drug and alcohol problems, I have met some who use drugs heavily but deny it on admission only later hearing the extent of it from the people who know them best. Also the violent and abusive (in my case also racist) patients tend mostly to come from poor uneducated housing scheme backgrounds. The bulk of patients in mental health inpatient departments come from such areas. Mental ill health affects almost 25% of people and yes I have nursed some patients from affluent areas, but very few. Could it just be that the rough areas that these patients come from normalizes violence? And maybe drugs and alcohol are not entirely to blame? Why don't the affluent mental health inpatients behave violently? And it can't be to do with lack of drug and alcohol problems as I have nursed a few of them too in wards such as alcohol problems ward and haven't had the violent aggressive type yet. More research needed I think Dr Fazel until then I will be keeping a good distance between myself and the violent and aggressive patients who make my work place a living hell for decent folk.

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