Violence against a person the role of mental disorder and abuse : a study of homicides and an analysis of criminality in a cohort of patients with schizophrenia

University dissertation from Umeå : Umeå universitet

Abstract: Interpersonal violence is a matter of growing concern. Where the safety of the common man is concerned, the dangerousness of mental patients, the ongoing de-institutionalization within psychiatry, and the role of alcohol is disputed. In order to analyze the significance of abuse and mental disorder in violent behaviour, this subject was approached from two different perspectives; from a specific violent offence - homicide - examining the mental status of the offenders, and from individuals with a specific mental disorder - schizophrenia -and assessing the rate of criminal offence amongst them.Homicides in northern Sweden and in Stockholm, legally characterized as murder, manslaughter or assault and causing another’s death, and homicides followed by the offenders’ suicide, were studied. Medicolegal autopsy records, police reports, pretrial psychiatric reports and court records were collected and scrutinized.The criminal records of 644 persons, discharged from hospitals in Stockholm with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, were studied. The relative risk of criminal offence was analyzed by indirect standardization using the general population as a standard. Violent offenders were further examined from psychiatric records.In the homicide material, 16 females and 160 males killed 94 men, 78 women, and 15 children. Forty percent of all surviving offenders were abusers without a major mental disorder, 39% were mentally disordered, 11% committed suicide, and 10% were considered "normal". The abusers and their victims were older, often socially and mentally deteriorated, and well known to each other. The victim was the prime aggressor in half of the cases. Killings by mentally disordered persons and by those who committed suicide were characterized by intimacy between offender and victim; one third were also abusers. Multiple homicides and child murder were mainly seen among homicide-suicice cases. The "normal" offenders were more often of foreign origin and two thirds of the victims initiated the violence by physical attacks. Relatively more of the homicides in northern Sweden concerned intimate parties, use of firearms, and cases of homicide-suicide, as compared to homicides in Stockholm where drug abuse was more prevalent. Sixteen offenders (9%) in the homicide sample had schizophrenia (all males), while 38 subjects (6%) in the cohort of schizophrenics had committed a violent offence. No homicide was recorded and most of the offences were of minor severity. The rate of violent offence was four times higher in the study group as compared to the general population.Most homicides involved closely related persons with separation and dependence as the dominating psychological theme, especially in homicide- suicide cases. Intoxication was regularly seen among the abusers but not among the non-abusers. The acute effect of alcohol intoxication may be of lesser importance in violence as compared to the long-term effects of abuse. Schizophrenics do not impress as a particularly dangerous group. Prevention by psychiatry is difficult; most offenders did not have any contact with psychiatry prior to the act.