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Editorial
July 2018

The Link Between Mental Illness and Being Subjected to Crime in Denmark vs the United StatesHow Much Do Poverty and the Safety Net Matter?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Social and Community Psychiatry, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina
  • 2Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
  • 3Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Social and Community Psychiatry, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina
JAMA Psychiatry. 2018;75(7):669-670. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0528

The media-driven notion that mentally ill people pose a danger to others appears to be encrusted like a barnacle on the concept of mental illness submerged in the public mind.1 Meanwhile, epidemiological studies estimate that the overwhelming majority of the 44.7 million US adults with a mental illness2 are not violent toward others,3 but that 1 in 4 psychiatric patients are subjected to crime in a given year.4 That changes the story. The discovery that people with psychiatric disorders are far more frequently the targets, rather than the perpetrators, of crime has become a key talking point for advocates who would debunk the dangerousness myth.5 Until recently, the data to support this rhetorical reversal have come from relatively small samples of patients with psychiatric conditions and have relied on participant recall of being subjected to crime.4,6 Now, a new study from Denmark published in this issue of JAMA Psychiatry7 confirms that the onset of mental illness significantly increases risk of experiencing crime, using longitudinal registry data on a national cohort of more than 2 million individuals with independent measures of specific psychiatric diagnoses matched to police records of reported crime.

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