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.