Mental Disorder and Serious Violence: The Victims.

Background: Media representation of violence by people with mental disorder tends toward images of random, serious violence to strangers. Studies of general psychiatric patients do not support this representation, but include few cases of serious or homicidal violence. This study describes the relationship of mentally disordered offenders to victims of an attack that was serious enough to result in the offender's detention in a high-security hospital. Hypotheses tested were that perpetrators of stranger violence would be more likely than those targeting people they know to be male, nonwhite, and younger and have a violence history and less likely to have psychotic features.

Method: A clinical register and record study of all patients with an index offense of interpersonal violence who were resident in English high-security hospitals Jan. 1, 1993, to June 30, 1993, was conducted.

Results: Among 887 men and 88 women, 33% had attacked strangers. After adjustment for the high proportion of men in this male-dominated population, men were still more likely than women to have attacked strangers. There was no independent association between stranger victimization and perpetrator's age, ethnic group, or violence history. Stranger victimization was, however, more likely to have been committed by those with personality disorder than those with psychosis. The most serious violence and homicide were more likely to be against intimates than strangers.

Conclusion: Among patients selected for high risk to the public, high rates of stranger victimization would be expected. The rates appeared, however, only slightly higher than in other reported patient samples and lower than in an untreated sample. The safety of people close to such patients urgently needs improvement.

J Clin Psychiatry 2003;64(7):819-824