A leading researcher on mental health in Canada hopes figures showing the high rates of victimization against those with mental illness will help public perception. (Unsplash)

People with mental illness twice as likely to be victims of violence: study

Researcher hopes Canadian data will further destigmatize those suffering from mental health issues

A leading mental health expert hopes recent research showing high rates of violence against people with mental illness helps remove the stigma from those suffering.

According to Statistics Canada figures released this month, people with mental health-related disabilities are more than twice as likely to be assaulted compared to the general population.

Of the about one million Canadians over the age of 15 who suffer from mental health issues, 40,000 have been violently robbed or assaulted in the past year.

Seven per cent of women with mental health issues were sexually assaulted – more than double the number of women in the general population.

And the trouble doesn’t end there: after being assaulted, only 22 per cent of those with mental health issues went to the police for help, compared to 31 per cent of the general population. Statistics Canada said that’s likely because those with mental health issues are twice as likely to view police in a negative light.

READ MORE: A day to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health

Dr. Sandy Simpson, the chief of forensic psychiatry at the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, added a further observation, that the victims’ fear of police creates a perpetuating cycle of poor police response.

“We know that recent [violence] can increase people’s fearfulness, so they’re more likely to respond aggressively [to police],” Simpson told Black Press Media by phone. “It makes them feel less safe and more likely to have to defend themselves as well.”

Simpson said he hoped homegrown data would help change the public’s perception of mental health issues as dangerous or unstable.

“Is there a risk of violent behaviour associated with mental illness? Yes there is. But the rates of victimization are much higher.”

READ MORE: We still have much to learn about mental health

Mental illness often come hand-in-hand with other issues, like binge drinking and heavy drug use, he added, which by themselves can make people more aggressive. Statistics Canada figures show 15 per cent of people with mental illness used drugs, compared to six per cent of those without.

The image of people with mental illness as perpetrators, rather than victims, is often perpetuated in the media, Simpson said.

“High profile-cases [of dangerous offenders] that get extensively reported re-enforce and drive home that message,” he said. “It’s an understandable distortion in the public mind.”

Mental health awareness campaigns in recent years have helped remove the stigma, he said, even if the poster children for those campaigns are more clean-cut and meant to appeal to a wider audience.

“The general campaign did extend in the public’s mind to people who had done grievous things when they were unwell,” said Simpson.

“People do get that these are treatable diseases. Violence can be a complication of an illness, and you can’t punish an illness.”


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Quadra Island adds voice to provincial old growth protest

Demonstrators and phoning campaign put pressure on provincial government

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

Campbell River RCMP describe violent incident as ‘disturbing event’

Skatepark incident described by RCMP as ‘violence for violence[’s] sake’

North Island area timber supply under review

Review will inform annual cut for the next ten years

QUIZ: A celebration of apples

September is the start of the apple harvest

‘Bad blood’ over pathology issue, says Island Health medical director

Regional hospital district board pushes for pathology service in Courtenay, Campbell River

Ferry riders say lower fares are what’s most needed to improve service

Provincial government announces findings of public engagement process

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Comox Valley protesters send message over old-growth logging

Event in downtown Courtenay was part of wider event on Friday

Application deadline for fish harvester benefits program extended

Those financially impacted by the pandemic have until Oct. 5 to apply

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Most Read