The assumption that mental health conditions are linked to criminal behavior spurs discrimination and stigma, potentially triggering anxiety and worsening mental health, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports. The study explored why mental health stigma is so prevalent and which factors influence it.
Understanding Mental Health Stigma
The study involved a representative sample of 10,000 people in Switzerland. A total of 2,207 people met inclusion criteria and responded to the survey, producing a sample that was majority (61.5%) female. Participants ranged in age from 18-65, with a mean age of 43.
Researchers asked participants to estimate the dangerousness of people in a fictional treatment vignette. Half of the vignettes featured symptoms of mental health diagnoses such as psychosis or addiction. The other half only provided information about the location of treatment, such as in a general or psychiatric hospital.alcohol addictions were more strongly perceived as dangerous. Vignettes that provided information about treatment in a general hospital were perceived as less dangerous.
Though mental health diagnoses were generally linked with stigma, exposure to the mental health system reduced stigma. Participants who had personal contact with psychiatric patients or who had themselves sought psychiatric care were less likely to stigmatize symptoms of mental health conditions.
Research Does Not Support Link Between Mental Health and Crime
Though media coverage of mental health often links mental health conditions to crimes, research does not support this link. A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found people with mental health conditions are more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators. In a six-month period, the study found 30.9% of participants were victims of violence.
A study published in the journal Law and Human Behavior assessed the link between crimes and mental health symptoms. Researchers looked at 429 violent crimes committed by 143 people who were diagnosed with one or more mental health conditions. Just 7.5% of those crimes were directly related to symptoms of mental health conditions.
- Mental illness not usually linked to crime, research finds. (2014, April 21). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/04/mental-illness-crime.aspx
- Society considers people with mental illnesses to be more dangerous than they are. (2017, April 3). Retrieved from https://www.unibas.ch/en/News-Events/News/Uni-Research/Society-considers-people-with-mental-illnesses-to-be-more-dangerous-than-they-are.html
- Sowislo, J. F., Gonet-Wirz, F., Borgwardt, S., Lang, U. E., & Huber, C. G. (2017). Perceived dangerousness as related to psychiatric symptoms and psychiatric service use — a vignette based representative population survey. Scientific Reports, 8. doi:10.1038/srep45716
- Study shows mentally ill more likely to be victims, not perpetrators, of violence. (2014, February 25). Retrieved from https://news.ncsu.edu/2014/02/wms-desmarais-violence2014/
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