The Relationship Between Mental Illness & Violence

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The Relationship Between Mental Illness & Violence

Many people have the false notion that mental illness and violence tend to go hand in hand. They mistakenly believe that people with mental health disorders are also aggressive and unpredictable, especially when it comes to individuals with certain psychiatric disorders. One survey found that 60% of Americans thought that people with schizophrenia were likely to act violently, and they also believed that 32% of people with major depression had tendencies toward violence.1 Our Banyan Lake Worth rehab shares more on violent behavior and mental health to debunk myths and break down stigma. 

Mental Health Symptoms That Contribute to Violent Behavior   

Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia can cause symptoms that may contribute to violent behavior. Sometimes, these symptoms can spur an otherwise calm person to aggression or violence. These symptoms include:   

  • Persecutory delusions and “command hallucinations”: For people with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, studies show that some of the conditions’ positive symptoms can provoke violence. Side note, in this case, positive isn’t necessarily a good thing. Persecutory delusions are persistent, troubling, false beliefs that one is about to be harmed or mistreated by others. For instance, a persecutory delusion is when a patient thinks people are putting implants in their head. Command hallucinations refer to hearing voices that order the individual to hurt others. Both of these symptoms can lead a person to believe that they either have to resort to violence to defend themselves or a loved one, or they can make the person believe they have to harm someone. 
  • Grandiosity: A common manic and hypomanic symptom of bipolar disorder, grandiosity, can also play a role in violent behavior. People can be overtaken by an exaggerated sense of their own power and abilities. This can impair their ability to empathize with others and instead lead to a sense of entitlement. This includes the right to take advantage of, exploit, or harm others.  
  • Mania: In addition to grandiosity, the high energy of manic bipolar disorder symptoms often leads to violence and aggression. One study led by Dr. Jillian K. Peterson, Ph.D., an associate professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and her colleagues found that of the 429 crimes committed by 143 offenders with mental illness, 3% related directly to depression, 4% related to psychosis, and 10% related bipolar disorder symptoms, including impulsivity.4 
  • Antisocial personality traits: Violence among people with mental illness is often associated with a history of conduct disorder and a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, which is characterized by a disregard for others, deceitfulness, and manipulation of others for personal gain. According to an analysis of data on 1,445 participants, people with schizophrenia were twice as likely to commit violent acts if they had a history of childhood conduct problems (28%) than if they did not (14%).5  

Individuals struggling with symptoms of mental illness should seek out professional help right away. Our Lake Worth drug rehab offers mental health treatment for various types of disorders as well as evidence-based therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy that can support your recovery or that of a loved one.  

Are People With Mental Illness More Prone to Violence? 

So, does this mean that people with mental illness are more violent? Not necessarily. The relationship between mental illness and violence is a complicated one.   

While the general public may believe that mental illnesses lead to violence, the numbers suggest that this is not always the case. About 3.7% of the general U.S. population commits one or more violent acts every year, and as many as 24% will commit aggressive behavior in their community at some point in their lifetime.2   

In comparison, people with major mental health disorders are estimated to only be responsible for 4.3% of the level of violence in a community.3 Most people with mental illnesses are no more violent than the average person, but there are always exceptions. 

There are certain types of mental illnesses that cause violent behavior more than others, including schizophrenia or psychotic disorders. Even so, the media may portray people with these disorders as being violent and unpredictable, but this may not be the case. People with schizophrenia are actually 14 times more likely to be the victim of violence in their community compared to being arrested for the same thing.4  For patients with more violent tendencies, mental health treatment may be able to decrease the rate of violence as well as the psychotic symptoms.2 

Another possible reason behind mental illness violence may be substance abuse. A study found that 31% of people with both a psychiatric disorder and a substance abuse disorder had committed a violent act in the last year, whereas only 18% of people with just a psychiatric disorder had done the same thing.1  

These numbers suggest that substance abuse can make violence more common, but some researchers challenge the validity of this study. Regardless of the results, people who are struggling with both of these problems at the same time should go to a dual-diagnosis treatment center to get help. 

Help for Mental Illness at BHOPB 

The overexaggerated relationship between violence and mental illness can be harmful. It can lead to stigma against those suffering from mental health disorders and also keep people who need help from stepping forward. 

For people struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, and anger, we offer anger rehabilitation alongside our other treatment programs to help patients heal comprehensively and work toward better lives once treatment is complete. 

Get started on the road to recovery today. To speak to one of our staff members at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches about our mental health or addiction treatment in Lake Worth, call 561-220-3981 or send us your contact information and we’ll reach out to you. 



  1. NCBI – Violence and Mental Illness 
  2. NCBI – Violence and mental illness: an overview 
  3. NCBI – Violence and Schizophrenia 
  4. APA PsychNetHow often and how consistently do symptoms directly precede criminal behavior among offenders with mental illness? 
  5. APA PsychNetAlternative pathways to violence in persons with schizophrenia: The role of childhood antisocial behavior problems. 


Related Reading: 

How Toxic Relationships Affect Your Mental Health 

Most Common Mental Health Disorders in College Students 

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