Victimization: A Link between Mental Illness and Violence?

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In the last decade, epidemiological studies established that there is a relationship between major mental disorder and violence Link et al., 1992, Link & Stueve, 1994, Stueve & Link, 1997 and Swanson et al., 1990. Their data showed the rate of violence among persons with severe mental illness to be moderately higher than in the general population, although they found that the overwhelming majority of such persons are not violent. The most recent large study of discharged psychiatric patients reported that it was only substance abusers among persons with severe mental disorder who had violence rates higher than others in their communities (Silver et al., 1999; Steadman et al., 1998). These studies considered the larger social context that may contribute simultaneously to psychiatric problems and violent behavior; but they did not measure and test the means by which social stratification affects the conditions of life such that individuals with severe mental disorder become involved in violent incidents Hiday, 1995 and Hiday, 1997. Stratified structural arrangements affect behavior by influencing the experiences, people, and situations to which individuals are exposed and from which they learn. An experience that is common among persons in low socioeconomic positions and may contribute to violent behavior is victimization (i.e., being assaulted physically, sexually, verbally, and/or emotionally). This paper examines the relative importance of victimization as one possible factor leading to violent behaviors among persons with severe mental illness.

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International Journal of Lawand Psychiatry, v. 24, issue 6, p. 559-572