Friday, March 8, 2013

Mental Disorders Greatly Increase Vulnerability to Homicide

In the wake of all the attention paid after recent mass shootings to the risk that people with mental illness will be perpetrators of deadly violence, a study by Stanford University researchers reveals that a risk that is overlooked is that people with mental illness are in fact more likely to be victims of homicide than are other individuals. People with mental disorders, including substance use disorders, anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia, have a greatly increased risk of being killed in a homicide, reported researchers in BMJ online March 5. 

They performed a nationwide cohort study of all people aged 17 or older who were living in Sweden on January 1, 2001 (n=7,253,516), identifying 615 homicide deaths during eight years of follow-up, including 141 among people who had been diagnosed with mental disorders. Men had twice the risk of being victims of homicidal death. The risk was more than twofold higher among people who were divorced or never married compared with those who were married or cohabitating. Other independent risk factors included low-education level, low income, being unemployed, and living in large cities rather than in medium-sized or small towns. 

The researchers noted that the homicide rate in Sweden (1.1 per 100,000 person years) is much lower than that of the United States (7.0 per 100,000 person years), and it is in the United States, they said, "where our findings are likely to have a larger public health impact."

To read a report of a recent Capitol Hill hearing on the relationship between mental illness and gun violence, see Psychiatric News here. The study reported in BMJ is posted here.

(Image: justasc/