Perpetration of violence, violent victimization, and severe mental illness: balancing public health concerns

Psychiatr Serv. 2008 Feb;59(2):153-64. doi: 10.1176/ps.2008.59.2.153.


Objective: This review examined U.S. empirical studies published since 1990 of the perpetration of violence and of violent victimization among persons with severe mental illness and their relative importance as public health concerns.

Methods: MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and Web of Science were searched for published empirical investigations of recent prevalence or incidence of perpetration or victimization among persons with severe mental illness. Studies of special populations were included if separate rates were reported for persons with and without severe mental illness.

Results: The search yielded 31 studies of violence perpetration and ten studies of violent victimization. Few examined perpetration and victimization in the same sample. Prevalence rates varied by sample type and time frame (recall period). Half of the studies of perpetration examined inpatients; of these, about half sampled only committed inpatients, whose rates of perpetration (17%-50%) were higher than those of other samples. Among outpatients, 2% to 13% had perpetrated violence in the past six months to three years, compared with 20% to 34% who had been violently victimized. Studies combining outpatients and inpatients reported that 12% to 22% had perpetrated violence in the past six to 18 months, compared with 35% who had been a victim in the past year.

Conclusions: Perpetration of violence and violent victimization are more common among persons with severe mental illness than in the general population. Victimization is a greater public health concern than perpetration. Ironically, the discipline's focus on perpetration among inpatients may contribute to negative stereotypes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Crime Victims / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Prevalence
  • Public Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Violence / psychology*
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data*