A shocking new study published in the Lancet revealed that people with mental health problems are four times more likely to be a victim of violence than the general population.  In the report which looked at 26 studies from developed nations, as many as a quarter of people with mental health problems have been attacked in the last year.

What this research clearly demonstrates is that far from the mentally ill being a threat to society, it is society which is a threat to the mentally ill.  Mentally ill people are ten times more likely to be a victim of a violent attack than the perpetrator of the attack.

Disturbing as these findings are, they are unsurprising.  As a society we are intolerant of behaviour that falls outside fairly conservative norms.  Mental health problems often leave people behaving in apparently strange or unusual ways.  Someone who is agoraphobic is going to look pretty scared in open spaces.  Someone who is depressed is likely to be caught up with themselves, and miss out on the usual social pleasantries. We expect people to behave in a certain way, and when they don’t, we feel threatened. 

Perhaps our post industrial culture is also partly to blame.  We prize scientific rationality and are deeply suspicious of the irrational.  Indeed ‘the irrational’ is something many of the so called ‘less developed’ nations are less scared of, and this is something we can learn from.

Given that anybody can experience poor mental health at some point in their life, what is needed is greater understanding and tolerance of mental illness. 

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