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Mental Illness not typically Tied to Crime, APA reports

Update Date: Apr 21, 2014 03:50 PM EDT

According to a new study, mental illness and crime rates are not as tied to one another as people tend to believe. New research published by the American Psychological Association (APA) revealed that mental illness is only directly responsible for 7.5 percent of crimes.

"When we hear about crimes committed by people with mental illness, they tend to be big headline-making crimes so they get stuck in people's heads," said lead researcher Jillian Peterson, PhD reported by Medical Xpress. "The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, not criminal and not dangerous."

The researchers reviewed 429 crimes that were carried out by 143 people. The offenders had three major types of mental illness, which were major depression, schizophrenia disorders and bipolar disorder. When the researchers examined the link between each mental illness and corresponding crime rates, they found that only three percent could be attributed to major depression. Four percent of the crimes were directly linked to schizophrenia disorders and 10 percent of the crimes were caused by symptoms of bipolar disorder.

When the researchers examined cases that were directly related to or mostly related to mental illnesses, the percentage of crimes caused by mental illnesses in general increased from 7.5 percent of 18 percent. When the researchers examined these combined rates, they found that for offenders with bipolar disorder, 62 percent of the crimes were tied to the illness. For depression and schizophrenia disorders, the rates were 15 and 23 percent respectively.

For the study, the researchers had gathered information with the help of former defendants from a mental health court located in Minneapolis. The offenders were all interviewed for two-hours regarding their criminal history and mental health symptoms that spanned over an average of 15 years. The participants were all men with an average age of 40. The racial makeup of the participants was 42 percent white, 42 percent black and 16 percent other. 85 percent of them suffered from substance abuse disorders.

The researchers were not able to identify any patterns that could help predict when someone with a mental illness would commit a crime. Instead, they found that people with mental illnesses committed a wide range of crimes for various reasons ranging from poverty to substance abuse.

The study, "How Often and How Consistently do Symptoms Directly Precede Criminal Behavior Among Offenders With Mental Illness?" was published in the APA's journal, Law and Human Behavior.

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