Violence and Mental Illness

Everyone sees movies depicting the mentally ill as violent, crazy, or mad with no sense of right and wrong. Is this scenario true in real life or just in movies? People with schizophrenia are portrayed as violent, harming anyone who comes into view, and are shown as crazy people. Is this the right depiction of mentally ill people? Are all criminals mentally ill, or are all mentally ill criminals? Is there a high chance that people with mental illness are more prone to violence? Is it a threat to the public's safety? These questions are very common when mental illness and violence are linked.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness and violent Behavior are linked, but it is not necessary that one might lead to another. The public opinion that people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are more prone to violence does not reflect reality. There is a chance that people with mental illness may be violent, but not necessarily. Many environmental factors play a role in relating violence to mental illness. The MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study was one of the first to assess rates of violence. The investigators interviewed participants multiple times to assess self-reported violence on an ongoing basis. They verified participants' recollections by checking with family members, case managers, or other people familiar with the participants.

Finally, the researchers also checked arrest and hospitalization records. The study found that 31% of people with both a substance abuse disorder and a psychiatric disorder (a "dual diagnosis") committed at least one act of violence in a year, compared with 18% of people with a psychiatric disorder alone. This confirmed other research that substance abuse is a key contributor to violent Behavior. However, when the investigators probed further, comparing rates of violence in one area in Pittsburgh to control for environmental factors and substance use, they found no significant difference in the rates of violence among people with mental illness and other people living in the same neighborhood. In other words, after controlling for substance use, rates of violence reported in the study may reflect factors common to a particular neighborhood rather than the symptoms of a psychiatric disorder. Several more recent studies that have compared large numbers of people with psychiatric disorders with peers in the general population have added to the literature by carefully controlling for multiple factors that contribute to violence.

Risk Factors

Many risk factors may contribute to violence. It cannot be determined what factors might affect violent Behavior, and they cannot be generalized throughout the population. However, some factors are common in violent Behavior and mental illness. These are

  • People who have previously been arrested or engaged in violent Behavior are more prone to doing so than others. To resume being violent. Most research indicates that this element might be the main indicator of upcoming violence. People with a history of violence are more prone to hurting others if their Behavior is not corrected.

  • Patients with two diagnoses are more likely than those with only one to have a psychiatric problem alone that can lead to violence. Hence a thorough evaluation is necessary. People with comorbid disorders find it difficult to control their actions when provoked, which might lead to violent outbursts. According to one idea, alcohol and drug misuse can lead to aggressive conduct in people with or without psychiatric illnesses since these substances can reduce cognitive inhibitions, alter emotional stability, and impair judgment. Substance misuse can aggravate symptoms like paranoia, grandiosity, or aggression in people with psychiatric problems. Patients who abuse alcohol or drugs are also less likely to follow through with mental disease treatment, which can exacerbate psychiatric symptoms. However, there is also the possibility that substance addiction conceals or is linked to other risk factors for violence.

  • Personality disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder are difficult to manage and assess and, without intervening, can lead to violent outbursts. Research also indicates that antisocial personality disorder, marked by disrespect for others, dishonesty, and manipulation of others for personal benefit, has a history of conduct disorder and a current diagnosis. Although these disorders are classified as personality disorders, if they were to be added, a lot more people would likely fall into the category of people with mental illness who are also at a high risk of being violent.

  • Studies show that these symptoms can also influence the anger and violence that are a feature of the manic and hypomanic phases of bipolar disorder. According to Brown, people can become overcome by an overinflated sense of their power, which can hinder their capacity for empathy and promote a sense of entitlement, including the right to take advantage of or abuse others. Similarly, the increased energy that frequently accompanies mania can result in hostility or violence on its own.

Preventing Violence

Violent Behavior can be prevented through the proper use of medication and therapy. Research indicates that schizophrenic patients taking antipsychotic drugs as prescribed were less prone to violent Behavior. There is proof that clozapine seems more effective than other psychotics at reducing aggressive behavior in people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. According to one study, patients prescribed clozapine for treating schizophrenia, or another psychotic disease had much lower arrest rates than those receiving other medications. Another thing that can be considered in assessing and correcting family dynamics. Family dynamics play a very important role in managing mental illnesses. Research suggests that about 1 in 5 family members of people with serious mental illness are the targets of such violence each year. Although there is little research on family and caregiver interventions in this area, several promising directions include supporting patients' participation in recovery-focused therapy and enhancing the availability of support services that may lessen dependency on family members.


Mental illness and violence are related, but mental illness does not have to be an antecedent condition for violent Behavior. Research has suggested that people with mental illness may be more prone to committing such acts when combined with environmental factors. Some risk factors could be family history, substance abuse, history of violence, personality disorders, grandiose feelings, mania, command hallucinations, and delusions, which may make the person feel threatened. Some ways violent Behavior can be prevented are by correcting family dynamics, ensuring that the patients follow their medications and therapy, providing care and support to ill patients, and building a safe community.