Victim, Not Villain

The mentally ill are up to seven times more likely to be murdered than the psychologically sound. Schizophrenics and those with psychotic symptoms are at far greater risk of becoming homicide victims than other citizens.

By Monique Cuvelier, published May 1, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Schizophrenics and those with psychotic symptoms are at far greater risk of becoming homicide victims than other citizens, according to Danish researchers. Only drug users and alcoholics face greater risk.

The implications of these findings are especially significant in the United States, where, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 22 percent of adults suffer from a mental disorder. Rates of crime and mental illness are much lower in Denmark.

Researchers at the Psychiatric Hospital in Ã…rhus, Denmark, examined death records of 72,208 Danes, 18,000 of whom died of unnatural causes. The data was culled from the Danish Psychiatric Case Registry and published in The Lancet.

Similar findings were reported in study at the University of Southern California. It found that adults suffering from schizophrenia are 14 times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than to be arrested for one.

More than one-third of individuals with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder were victims of crime, and 91 percent of those were violent crimes, including rape and assault. The report tracked 172 Los Angeles-based subjects for three years and was recently published in Psychiatric Services.

Neither set of researchers offered conclusive explanations for the disproportionate victimization of the mentally ill. Living in unsafe neighborhoods may make them easy targets, and symptoms such as paranoia might provoke violence in others or prevent victims from avoiding dangerous situations.