Study Suggests Psychosis Not Linked to Violent Crime

Crime scene tape and emergency vehiclesSchool shootings, bomb threats, and similarly horrific crimes often spark national dialogues about “mental illness”. Yet research consistently suggests that those with mental health issues are more likely to be crime victims than crime perpetrators. Psychosis, a detachment from reality that produces hallucinations and delusions, is frequently blamed for acts of violence, and some violent perpetrators claim that psychosis led to their crimes. A new study published in Clinical Psychological Science undermines this claim, though, arguing that only a small portion of violent acts are preceded by hallucinations or delusions.

Psychosis: Rarely a Factor in Violence

Researchers analyzed 305 violent acts committed by 100 former psychiatric patients deemed “high-risk.” Only 11.5% of participants experienced hallucinations or delusions prior to committing acts of violence. Because all study participants had mental health issues, researchers did not assess a connection between mental health issues and violence.

Among study participants, depression—not schizophrenia or other conditions that lead to psychosis—was the most common challenge. Fifty-three percent of participants had depression, compared to 15% with schizophrenia and 13% with bipolar. Even among those who had a history of delusions or hallucinations and who had high rates of violence, psychosis played a role in only 19.2% of 182 acts of violence. This suggests that, even among those with mental health issues, violence is not well-explained by psychosis. 

Mental Health and Violence

This study coincides with a host of other studies into the connection between violence and mental health. Earlier this year, a study of 120,000 gun murders found that less than 5% of these murders were committed by those with mental health issues. With more than a quarter of Americans struggling with mental health issues each year, this suggests that people with mental health challenges are actually underrepresented among those who commit violent acts. Other studies have found that violence is more strongly correlated with anger problems, substance abuse, and access to guns.


  1. Mental disorders in America. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Preidt, R. (2015, June 12). Psychosis rarely linked to violent crime, study says. Retrieved from
  3. Skeem, J. (2015, May 26). Psychosis rarely, inconsistently precedes violence. Retrieved from

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  • Ed

    June 18th, 2015 at 4:09 PM

    I suspect that these are the cases that we hear about the most because these are the ones that seem to have the easiest answers.

  • thomas

    June 19th, 2015 at 11:45 AM

    If this is not the answer then what is, because I fail to understand how a completely sane person could go out and commit such heinous acts of terror and violence against other people. I guess that no matter whether there is an exploitation or not it can never change their actions, but still I think that it is normal to want to find some answers and maybe this is just us as humans grasping at straws but there has to be something there, some root cause that we are overlooking.

  • Brynn

    June 20th, 2015 at 12:31 PM

    What about anti-psychotic drugs?
    I have heard a few things lately that seem to suggest that these kinds of drugs can have a terrible effect on some people.

  • Gary

    June 22nd, 2015 at 3:22 PM

    I know that this is something that can be hard to wrap our minds around but in some instances there are just some very mean people who do very mean things for no reason other than simply they wish to take out their hatred and anger on other people, most of the time people who have no idea that they are going to become the target of another person’s rage.
    That’s hard to accept because most of us are not wired that way and we think more about others than we do ourselves, but these people who commit crimes such as these have no real idea of what caring for another person is all about.

  • Tate

    June 27th, 2015 at 4:28 PM

    suggests but doesn’t prove

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