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

Northwest mobile unit to help those at heart of mental health, addiction crisis

Province, Northern Health unveils new unit in Terrace to bridge gaps in services

Move natural gas pipeline, MP suggests

Coastal GasLink could then avoid opposition

Coastal GasLink violates terms of permit

Tree clearing took place outside Kitimat

Doctor recruiting drive showing results

Crisis point has now passed

Sparks fly as SUV speeds down wrong side of Highway 1 trying to flee RCMP

Captured on video, the vehicle headed westbound against oncoming traffic before crashing

Calgary captain has 3 points as Flames torch Canucks 3-1

Giordano leads way as Alberta side cracks 100-point plateau

1,300 cruise ship passengers rescued by helicopter amid storm off Norway’s coast

Rescue teams with helicopters and boats were sent to evacuate the cruise ship under extremely difficult circumstances

B.C. university to offer first graduate program on mindfulness in Canada

University of the Fraser Valley says the mostly-online program focuses on self-care and well being

Province announces $18.6 million for B.C. Search and Rescue

The funding, spread over three years, to pay for operations, equipment, and training

Late-season wave of the flu makes its round in B.C.

BC Centre for Disease Control reported 50 per cent jump in flu cases in first weeks of March

Tofino’s housing crisis causing some to seek shelter at the local hospital

Tofino’s housing crisis is pushing the town’s ‘hidden homeless’ population into the forefront.

Sentencing judge in Broncos crash calls for carnage on highways to end

Judge Inez Cardinal sentenced Jaskirat Singh Sidhu to eight years

2 fires in Victoria caused by cigarettes prompts warning from deputy fire chief

Two separate fires caused by cigarette butts were avoidable

Most Read