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People with severe mental illness more often victims of crime

People with severe mental illness are at nearly three times greater risk of being victims of crime compared to the general population, according to research from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), published today in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The researchers found that people with severe mental illness (SMI), such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression or personality disorder of a severity requiring intensive service contact, were five times more likely to be victims of assault, and three times more likely to be victims of household crime and criminal damage than the control group after taking into account differences in their demographics and social circumstances. Overall, 40% of SMI patients included in the study were victims of a crime in the preceding year compared with 14% of the control group, putting them at nearly three times greater risk, and it was also found that half of the victims of violence in the study had unmet support needs. 

“In routine clinical practice, victimisation is under-detected by mental health professionals, and where it is detected, appropriate support may not be provided,” said Dr Hind Khalifeh, Department of Health Services & Population Research at the IoPPN, and lead author on the study. “Mental health professionals need to identify victimisation, and to work jointly with legal and voluntary organisations to ensure that people with severe mental health problems who are victims of crime receive the care and support they need and deserve.”

Substance misuse and violence perpetration accounted for the risk of victimisation among men, but not among women, who were at particularly high risk of violence, both community (perpetrated by strangers or acquaintances) and domestic (perpetrated by partners or family members). Given these differences in risk pathways, the researchers suggested there was a need for ‘gender sensitive’ interventions that recognise women experience high rates of physical and sexual violence by a broad range of perpetrators, often in private settings. 

The researchers interviewed 361 psychiatric patients using a national crime survey questionnaire, and the survey results were compared with 3,138 controls who did not have a SMI but who had also taken part in a national crime survey. "The shockingly high prevalence of violent victimisation that we found among people with severe mental health problems further highlights the vulnerability of this group of people,” said Dr Paul Moran, also of the Department of Health Services & Population Research, IoPPN and the study’s senior author. 

“Victimisation experiences were under-detected by health professionals, suggesting that many service users suffer in silence when faced with the aftermath of crime,” he added. “Ultimately we hope that greater awareness of these issues will stimulate much better advocacy and support for adults with mental health problems if they have been a victim of crime."

For further information contact Tom Bragg, Press Officer at IoPPN, King’s College London, on +44(0)2078485377 or email