Mentally ill people are substantially less likely to commit a violent crime if they are taking psychiatric medication, says a large new study of the mentally ill in Sweden reported by the Wall Street Journal. The study, published in The Lancet, comes amid persistent concern about the connection between violence and mental illness, fueled by high-profile mass shootings and crimes committed by people with psychiatric disorders. Mental-health experts say the connection between the two is overblown in the public mind.
Previous evidence suggests that people with severe mental illnesses have an elevated risk of violent behavior, compared with the general population, particularly when they are untreated or are engaged in substance abuse. There has been limited research on whether taking psychiatric medication helps reduce violence. Some mental-health experts express concerns about side effects of heavy-duty psychiatric medications, relative to their benefit. Antipsychotic drugs, which include Clozaril, Risperdal and Zyprexa, are used to treat schizophrenia and other severe mental illness in which people lose touch with reality. Seena Fazel, a senior research fellow in clinical science at Oxford University and first author on the study, said only a minority of patients commit crimes, “but even in this minority, it may be to a large extent a modifiable risk.”