This edition of “Field Notes on Behavioral Health” identifies misconceptions about the link between mental health and violence while providing accurate information on the needs of and treatment services required for those with a mental illness that may lead to unlawful behavior.
Research has shown that the link between violence and mental illness is complex and that a person having a mental illness is not necessarily at higher risk for violence than a person who does not have a mental illness. This report provides research evidence to support the following statements: 1) People with mental illnesses are not more likely to be violent than the general public; 2) People with mental illnesses are more likely to cause self-harm or be victims of violence than to inflict harm on others; and 3) Clinical assessment is not the most effective way to determine a person’s risk for violence. An outline of risk factors for violence based on research literature briefly explains the following risk factors for violent behavior: 1) prior history of violent behavior; 2) times of crisis that produce stress, which lowers customary behavioral controls; 3) the experience of “auditory hallucinations” to act violently on command; or substance use that reduces one’s restraints against violence. The report concludes with brief discussions of practical steps for mitigating risks of violence, which include understanding related research, providing ongoing training, and leveraging community resources and their clinical expertise.