How to Block the Escalating Cycle of Mental Illness and Violence
In mental health, intervening early with treatment is proving to be key to reducing community violence and mental health crises.
The study, a joint effort from North Carolina State University, RTI International, Duke University Medical Center and Arizona State University, was launched to understand the connections between mental health problems and violence.
Many have assumed the connections before, but much of that was based on guesswork rather than absolute data.
As RTI’S Richard Van Zorn, one of the lead authors of a recent paper that covers this new study, noted, an earlier analysis showed that around one-third of adults diagnosed with mental illness were likely become victims of violence within a six-month period. That suggested digging deeper into the problem, as the researchers looked into two key questions: If someone is victimized, are they likely to become violent? And if someone is violent, are they likely to become victims themselves.
As the study showed, the answer is yes to both questions, suggesting as a first conclusion that being a victim of violence can make one more violent. As a second it says that violent people attract becoming victimized themselves.
Add to that the issue that being mentally ill positions individuals for a higher likelihood of becoming a victim of violence in a relatively short time, and one can begin to see how not treating the mentally ill quickly can rapidly compound the violent nature of a society.
The study reviewed 3,473 adults with mental illness who had answered questions both about causing violence themselves and being the victim of violence against them. The study included understanding everything from medication usage to living conditions, such as whether they were homeless, were hospitalized for mental health treatment, or lived at home. The study also included understanding the various kinds of therapy those mentally ill individuals were receiving. It then kept tabs on each person’s situation and experiences for a period of up to three years each.
Some perhaps obvious conclusions of the study were that those who used drugs had a much higher probability of committing violence, and that alcoholism was linked to becoming a victim of violence.
Beyond those kinds of self-medication to deal with such illness, affective symptoms such as anxiety, being depressed and having poor impulse control were also quite tightly associated with violence.
As one of the other researchers associated with the study, Sarah Desmarais, an associate professor at North Carolina State observed related to these ‘affective symptoms’ (as they are referred to), what it shows is that relying on pure drug or alcohol use programs to treat the mentally ill would not stop the illness and victimization cycles. The study says it is clear that therapeutic interventions or medication designed specifically to treat the anxiety, depression and impulse issues, should be addressed early as well.
The study went on to evaluate more complex issues, such as the domino effect often happening when one violent event triggered a series of other things to happen, all of which made the situation that much harder for the individuals involved to manage themselves. In one case, for example, a single incidence of violence triggered seven other things to happen, including numerous new psychological symptoms, homelessness and becoming more violent themselves.
In the end, the study points to the need to be able to observe such mental health problems at the earliest possible stages, followed by targeted early treatment and therapy of many different kinds (not always involving drugs), in order to keep mental illness and violence from further spiraling out of control in our modern world.