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.

Just Posted

Town council votes to reclassify LB Warner lot for residential use

Smithers just got one step closer to more affordable housing, but there are still many to go

Nisga’a leader named UNBC chancellor

Dr. Joseph Arthur Gosnell is the first Indigenous leader to assume the role

A medical first saved Ryan Jones’ life

The 25-year-old Smithers man is almost fully recovered after being effectively dead.

Steelheads recruiting event shows promise

A small but enthusiastic group of organizers is hoping to put a Smithers team back in the CIHL

Fletcher disregards facts on climate action

Letter writer Macrae says inaction jeopardizes jobs

VIDEO: Driver in bizarre hit-and-run at B.C. car dealership turns herself in

Police believe alcohol was a factor in incident causing estimated $15,000 in damages

‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Dr. Bonnie Henry says current approach in ‘war on drugs’ has criminalized and stigmatized drug users

Canfor curtailing operations across B.C.

Low lumber prices and the high cost of fibre are the cause of curtailment

B.C. woman, 76, challenges alcohol-screening laws after failing to give breath sample

Norma McLeod was unable to provide a sample because of her medical conditions

New report on 2017 wildfires calls for better coordination with B.C. First Nations

Tsilhqot’in National Government documents 2017 disaster and lists 33 calls to action

B.C. youth coach banned amid sexual harassment, bullying scandal: Water Polo Canada

Justin Mitchell can’t take part in Water Polo Canada events or clubs

Wilson-Raybould: Feds want to just ‘manage the problem’ of Indigenous Peoples

Former federal justice minister speaks at First Nations Justice Council meeting in B.C.

Haida youth travels to New York for UN forum on Indigenous issues

Haana Edensaw presented her speech in Xaad Kil, Masset dialect of the Haida language

Female real estate agents warned of suspicious man in Metro Vancouver

The man requests to see homes alone with the female agent, police say

Most Read