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Commentary
May 1998

New Evidence on the Violence Risk Posed by People With Mental IllnessOn the Importance of Specifying the Timing and the Targets of Violence

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1998;55(5):403-404. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.55.5.403

THERE IS a widespread belief among the American public that people with mental illness pose a significant violence risk.1,2 Moreover, the prevalence of this belief seems to have increased since the 1950s, when the issue was first systematically assessed.3 Because this public perception of dangerousness plays a central role in fostering stigma, its validity demands empirical scrutiny.4,5 To date, nearly every modern study indicates that public fears are way out of proportion to the empirical reality. The magnitude of the violence risk associated with mental illness is comparable to that associated with age, educational attainment, and gender6,7 and is limited to only some disorders and symptom constellations.8,9 Furthermore, because serious mental illness is relatively rare and the excess risk modest, the contribution of mental illness to overall levels of violence in our society is minuscule.10

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