MENTAL HEALTH: New Study Looks At Link To Violence
A study published in the current Archives of General Psychiatry finds that "mental patients discharged from a hospital stay are no more violent than other members of their community, unless they have been abusing alcohol or drugs." The study, which looked at 1,000 patients discharged from hospitals in Worcester, MA, Kansas City, MO, and Pittsburgh, found that "[s]ubstance abuse increased the rates of violence by mental patients by up to five times ... while it tripled the rate of violence by other people." According to the New York Times, the study's findings on substance abuse are "particularly important because the mentally ill are almost twice as likely as other people to be alcoholics or on drugs, the report said" (Butterfield, 5/15). University of Virginia psychologist John Monahan, who worked on the study, noted that mentally ill persons "may be more likely to be substance abusers because they use drugs and alcohol 'to deal with the pain and terror of psychiatric symptoms.'" He said, "One lesson I would take away from this is that there's a great need to better integrate mental health and substance abuse services" (Bavley, Kansas City Star, 5/15).
An Access Issue
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Executive Director Laurie Flynn said the problem of violence among mentally ill persons is linked to "the lack of access to treatment." She noted that access barriers are responsible in part for "the criminalization problem" -- where the "growing number of mentally ill people ... are sent to jail or prison rather than a clinic or hospital." Flynn said, "People end up telling us it is easier to get your relative arrested than to get them treatment. It is a kind of family secret" (New York Times, 5/15). A commentary piece in the current Archives of General Psychiatry concludes: "[T]his study suggests that the association between mental disorders and violence is temporally limited and that the essential ingredients to breaking the association -- treatment and recuperation time -- are ones that we control." The full text of the study is available online through the American Medical Association's Website (www.ama-assn.org).