Objective: In order to examine prospectively the characteristics of violence among psychiatric patients, a 5-year study was carried out in an acute psychiatric unit.
Method: All assaultive behaviour occurred in the ward during the study period were assessed routinely using the Staff Observation Aggression scale (SOAS).
Results: Of 1534 patients admitted to the unit during the study period, 116 were responsible for 329 aggressive episodes (prevalence of violence=7.5%, 2.8 incidents/patient). Most violent patients had an ICD-9 diagnosis of schizophrenia and/or delusional syndromes (55.1%), a history of violence (80.7%) and previous psychiatric admissions (92%). Approximately half of the incidents had no specific cause, occurred during daytime and the first week of admission and, in most cases, were directed towards individuals (77.8%).
Conclusion: Although confirming the low rate of violence among Italian psychiatric in-patients, the study indicates the need for more attention to the problem of aggression in general hospital psychiatric units.