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Expert calls for greater awareness of the impact of crime on people with mental health problems

Posted Monday 7 October 2013

The research reveals people with mental health problems are much more likely to be victims of crime than the general population. © Kmiragaya | Dreamstime.comPeople with mental health problems are up to three times more likely to become victims of crime than the general population, research involving a senior academic from Kingston University and St George's, University of London has found.

The report, produced by Victim Support and Mind in partnership with academics from Kingston University and St George's, University of London, King's College London and University College London, also found people with severe mental illness were more likely to be repeat victims of crime. However, they were often not believed by those they reported it to or their reports were discredited because of their mental health problems. They were also more deeply affected by crime than people without mental health issues.

"Public perception is that people with mental health issues are more likely to commit crime than be victims," Professor Vari Drennan, who is based at the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education at Kingston and St George's, said. "However, this report highlights the high incidence of crime against this vulnerable group, and the serious impact it can have. They face significant barriers in getting the help they need when they report and address these incidences."

The study is the first in the country to look at crime against people with severe mental illness compared with crime against the general population. It also explores the experiences of people with mental health problems following a crime. The findings paint a stark picture of the barriers they face in getting the support, help and redress they need.

The report includes specific recommendations for police and the criminal justice system, the health service, housing and other agencies and charities. Its authors have called for for an urgent national debate at Government levels to determine ways to respond to the needs of victims of crime with mental health problems.

"It is nothing short of a national scandal that some of the most vulnerable people in our society become victims of crime so often and yet, when they seek help, they are met with disbelief or even blame," Victim Support chief executive Javed Khan said. "It is unacceptable that the criminal justice system fails to meet the needs of people with mental health problems when this report shows all too clearly the terrible impact of crime on them."

The report contains recommendations for police, the criminal justice system and healthcare professionals on supporting crime victims with mental health issues.Mind's chief executive Paul Farmer called on police, commissioners, healthcare staff, support agencies and local and national government to work together to improve services for crime victims with mental health issues.

"Being a victim of crime is a horrible experience for anyone to cope with but when you have a mental health problem the impact on your life can be even worse," Mr Farmer said. "People with mental health problems have an equal right to justice, yet this report reveals that this is not the reality for far too many of us. It is unacceptable that the police, healthcare staff and others who are supposed to support victims of crime may be dismissive of or not believe a person's experience, or may even blame them for the crime."

Professor Drennan echoed this view. "Police need a greater understanding of people with mental health issues as victims of crime and need to recognise they may have less resilience to cope with its effects than others," she said. "Likewise GPs, primary care staff and mental health service staff must be more aware of the high incidences of crime against people with mental health problems and must improve their responses in these situations to ensure these people get the support they need to address what has happened and prevent future incidences."

The three year study was funded by The Big Lottery Fund. It found that:

• People with severe mental illness were three times more likely to be a victim of any crime than those without.
• People with severe mental illness were five times more likely to experience assault than those without.
• Women with severe mental illness were ten times more likely to experience assault than those without.
• Nearly 45 per cent of people with severe mental illness reported experiencing crime in the last year
• 62 per cent of women with severe mental illness reported being victims of sexual violence as adults.
• People with severe mental illness were seven times more likely to experience three or more different types of crime in a year than the general population.
• People with severe mental illness were significantly more likely to report the police had been unfair or disrespectful compared to the general population.

  • Find out more about research at the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education.

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