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

Let the Games begin!

Team Alberta takes home gold and silver in speed skating on day one

WATCH: Historic night in Red Deer as 2019 Canada Winter Games kicks off

Star-studded Opening Ceremony features athletes from across Canada

Athletes’ medals unveiled at the official kick-off of 2019 Canada Winter Games

Medals depict Central Alberta landscape and pay tribute to First Nations

WATCH: Canada Winter Games are finally here

Final leg of torch relay kicked off at Fort Normandeau

Red Deer man loses car after being caught twice driving with suspended licence

The Ponoka Integrated Traffic Unit ticketed the man in December and on Valentine’s Day

Mermen calendar targets ‘toxic masculinity,’ raises big money for charities

Newfoundland and Labrador Beard and Moustache Club gave a cheque for more than $202,000 to Violence Prevention NL

‘Our entire municipality is heartbroken’: Seven children die in Halifax house fire

A man and woman remained in hospital Tuesday afternoon, the man with life-threatening injuries

Team Alberta takes exciting victory in wheelchair basketball, remains undefeated

After three games in the tournament, Alberta is sitting in first place of its pool

UPDATED: ‘Violent’ B.C. man back in custody after Alberta arrest

Prince George man with ties to Vernon was being sought by police

After a week away, SNC-Lavalin questions await MPs returning to Parliament

Two have resigned already: Jody Wilson-Raybould was veterans affairs minister and Gerald Butts was Trudeau’s principal secretary

Chanel: Iconic couturier Karl Lagerfeld has died

He spent virtually his entire career at luxury labels catering to the very wealthy

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh calls for public inquiry over SNC-Lavalin questions

Vancouver member of Parliament Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet last week

Body found after apparent house explosion in Calgary, police investigating

Sgt. Dwayne Lepchuk declined to say whose remains were found

Canadian airlines waiting for guidance from Ottawa over X gender option

Major U.S. airlines said they will change their process so passengers can identify themselves along non-binary lines

Most Read