Violence & mental health

Over a third of the public think people with a mental health problem are likely to be violent -in fact people with severe mental illnesses are more likely to be victims, rather than perpetrators, of violent crime

 The Facts

  • The majority of violent crimes and homicides are committed by people who do not have mental health problems.
  • People with mental health problems are more dangerous to themselves than they are to others: 90 per cent of people who die through suicide in the UK are experiencing mental distress
  • In 2009, the total population in England and Wales was just over 43 million. It is estimated that about one in six of the adult population will have a significant mental health problem at any one time (more than 7 million people). Given this number and the 50–70 cases of homicide a year involving people known to have a mental health problem at the time of the murder, clearly the statistics data do not support the sensationalised media coverage about the danger that people with mental health problems present to the community.
  • According to the British Crime Survey, almost half (47 per cent) of the victims of violent crimes believed that their offender was under the influence of alcohol and about 17 per cent believed that the offender was under the influence of drugs. Another survey suggested that about 30 per cent of victims believed that the offender attacked them because they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In contrast, only 1 per cent of victims believed that the violent incident happened because the offender had a mental illness. 
  • Contrary to popular belief, the incidence of homicide committed by people diagnosed with mental health problems has stayed at a fairly constant level since the 1990s
  • Substance abuse appears to play a role: The prevalence of violence is higher among people who have symptoms of substance abuse (including discharged psychiatric patients and non-patients). 

Reporting stories featuring violence and mental health problems

  • stick to the facts – don’t speculate about someone’s mental health being a factor unless the facts are clear
  • consider including contextualising facts about how very few people with mental health problems are violent
  • seek comment from a mental health charity such as Mind or Rethink Mental Illness 
  • speak to the perpetrator’s family – often they are victims too with compelling stories to tell

Why not hear more about how it feels to hear stories linking mental health and violence when you have a mental health problem? 

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