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

Fundraiser for housefire victim up to $4K

Komi Pelawelo and his son were not home that Saturday morning when a blaze broke out on Slack Road.

Flash mobs for the protest era

Observations by Resource Works’ Stewart Muir on LNG’s brusque rite of passage into resource radicalism

Author warns of dangerous goods being carried by rail

Bruce Campbell wrote book on Lac-Mégantic disaster, in Smithers Jan. 23.

Telkwa council briefs

Only a quarter of residents are using the Village recycling program.

Little Shop of Horrors back in Hazelton after 22 years

Hazelton Secondary School puts on four performces starting Saturday. Tickets on sale now.

Canada’s archive buys rare book that hints at Nazi plans for North America

The 1944 book may have served as a blueprint for a Nazi purge

Teravainen’s 3 points lift Hurricanes to 5-2 win over Canucks

Vancouver heads into all-star break on losing note

47 men arrested by Vancouver police for allegedly seeking sex with teenage girls

Seven of those arrested have been charged as part of a two-month operation

B.C. hospital apologizes for veteran’s five-day hallway stay

Clinical director of Victoria General Hospital says case of retired veteran ‘definitely excessive’

Speaker Darryl Plecas says ‘justice’ needed for legislature employees

Plecas spoke to media at the opening of a pedestrian and cycling bridge in Abbotsford Wednesday

Advocate hopes B.C. legislature scandal leads to more transparency

‘Depressing’ that it takes a scandal to inspire freedom of information reform, says Sara Neuert

‘Dr. Lipjob’ avoids jail, gets 30-day suspended sentence

She will have to serve the 30 days in prison if she commits a breach during her two-year’s probation

Ex-Mountie involved in Taser death at Vancouver airport sues government

Kwesi Millington claims he acted in accordance with RCMP training

LETTER: Seniors home care, day programs expanding, Adrian Dix says

B.C. health minister responds to latest Seniors Advocate report

Most Read