Public Impressions on Likelihood of Violence in People With Mental Illness

By 2018, more than 60 percent perceived those with schizophrenia as dangerous; many support coercive treatment.

HealthDay News — Many people perceive individuals with mental illness, including schizophrenia, as dangerous to others and support coercive treatment, according to a report published in the October issue of Health Affairs.

Bernice A. Pescosolido, Ph.D., from Indiana University in Bloomington, and colleagues used data from three National Stigma Studies (1996, 2006, and 2018) to examine trends in public perceptions of violence and support for coerced treatment across a 22-year period. Respondents were given one of three vignettes describing people who met clinical criteria for mental disorders or describing a person with nonclinical “daily troubles.”

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Over time, the researchers found that perceptions regarding potential violence and support for coercion generally increased, significantly so for schizophrenia. More than 60 percent of respondents saw people who met criteria for schizophrenia as dangerous to others by 2018, while coercive treatment was supported by 44 to 59 percent of respondents. Sixty-eight percent of respondents perceived people with alcohol dependence as dangerous to others, and coercion was supported by 26 to 38 percent. Lower but substantial percentages of respondents reported perceiving people with depression and those with nonclinical daily troubles as dangerous.

“It appears that scientific evidence cannot correct the public and political rhetoric surrounding mass shootings that links violence and mental illness,” the authors write. “Public policies stoked by political rhetoric will not improve the lives of any Americans.”

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