Mental Illness Does Not Predict Violent Behavior

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Violent behavior is frequently associated with mental health, but a new study shows the long-held belief may be unfounded. The study from researchers at Northwestern University showed that psychiatric disorders – including depression – are not predictive of future violent behavior.

Instead the findings show that substance abuse disorders are the only disorders that predict future violence.

“Our findings are relevant to the recent tragic plane crash in the French Alps. Our findings show that no one could have predicted that the pilot — who apparently suffered from depression – – would perpetrate this violent act,” said Linda Teplin, corresponding author of the study. “It is not merely a suicide, but an act of mass homicide.”

For the study, which has been published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the researchers reviewed data from the Northwestern Juvenile Project, a longitudinal study of youth who were detained at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago between 1995 and 1998.

The project asked 1,659 youth between the ages of 13 and 25 to self-report violence and psychiatric disorders in interviews up to four times between three and five years after detention.

The study concluded that mental disorders cannot predict future violence, however youth with psychiatric illness do risk numerous risk factors such as living in violence and impoverished areas, which may exacerbate the risk for violent behavior as well as worsening psychiatric illness.

“Providing comprehensive treatment to persons with some psychiatric disorders could reduce violence,” Katherine Elkington, first author of the study and an assistant professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry at Columbia University Medical School and New York Psychiatric Institute, said in a statement. “We must improve how we address multiple problems — including violent behavior — as part of psychiatric treatment.”

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