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Study Shows Mentally Ill Are More Likely  to Be Victims of Violence —Not Perpetrators

New research shows that almost one third of adults with mental illness are likely to be victims of violence within a six-month period, and that adults with mental illness who commit violence are most likely to do so in residential settings. The study also finds a strong correlation between being a victim of violence and committing a violent act.

 “We hear about the link between violence and mental illness in the news, and we wanted to look not only at the notion that the mentally ill are a danger to others, but the possibility that they are also in danger,” says Dr. Sarah Desmarais, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the work.

The researchers compiled a database of 4,480 mentally ill adults who had answered questions about both committing violence and being victims of violence in the previous six months. The database drew from five earlier studies that focused on issues ranging from antipsychotic medications to treatment approaches. 

The researchers found that 23.9 percent of the study participants had committed a violent act within the previous six months. The majority of those acts—63.5 percent—were committed in residential settings, not in public. Only 2.6 percent of the violent acts were committed in school or workplace settings.

The researchers found that a significantly higher percentage of participants—30.9 percent—had been victims of violence in the same time period. And of those who said they were victimized, 43.7 percent said they’d been victimized on multiple occasions.

“We also found that participants who had been victims of violence were 11 times more likely to commit violence,” Desmarais says. “This highlights the need for more robust public health interventions that are focused on violence. It shouldn’t just be about preventing adults with mental illness from committing violent acts, it should also be about protecting those at risk of being victimized.

Source: The paper, “Community Violence Perpetration and Victimization Among Adults With Mental Illnesses,” is published online in the Feb. 2014 issue of American Journal of Public Health (Abstract). Press release from NC State University.

Victims and Perpetrators in Violent  Teen Relationships Are Both Prone to Depression

Intimate partner violence (IPV)—defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse”—is a serious public health issue affecting millions of people in the United States. New research shows that adolescents and young adults who perpetrate IPV and those who fall victim to IPV are more likely to experience an increase in symptoms of depression.

Researchers fused data from the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study to examine how relationship violence might affect depressive symptoms during adolescence and young adulthood. The first of four interviews were conducted in 2001, when respondents were 12 to 19. Subsequent interviews occurred about one year later, 

with follow-ups occurring in two-year intervals. Respondents’ ages at the time of the last interview ranged from 17 to 24.

The researchers examined self-reports of IPV victimization and perpetration, and they considered whether violence was mutual or experienced as only a victim or as the perpetrator, as well as earlier victimization by family or peers. They found that few respondents reported continual involvement in IPV across relationships. A more common pattern was for violence to be present in one or two relationships.

The researchers also found that IPV victimization, perpetration, and mutual violence all correspond with increases in symptoms of depression. Furthermore, these results were present for young men as well as women.

Interestingly, the accumulation of IPV exposure does not appear to offer additional negative contributions to the relationship between IPV and depressive symptoms beyond those stemming from the current or most recent relationship. Similarly, prior IPV exposure does not amplify the relationship between IPV exposure and depressive symptoms.

Source: “Intimate Partner Violence and Depressive Symptoms During Adolescence and Young Adulthood,” March 2014 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (JHSB). Press release from American Sociological Association.


Smoking Cessation May Improve Mental Health

Health professionals who treat people with mental health problems often overlook their patients’ smoking habits. However, new research shows that people who struggle with mood problems or addiction can safely quit smoking and that kicking the habit is associated with improved mental health.

“Clinicians tend to treat the depression, alcohol dependence, or drug problem 

first and allow patients to ‘self-medicate’ with cigarettes if necessary,” said lead investigator Patricia A. Cavazos–Rehg, PhD. “The assumption is that psychiatric problems are more challenging to treat and that quitting smoking may interfere with treatment.”

But the study found that quitting or significantly cutting back on cigarette smoking was linked to improved mental health outcomes. Quitting altogether or reducing by half the number of cigarettes smoked daily was associated with lower risk for mood disorders such as depression, as well as a lower likelihood of alcohol and drug problems.

“We don’t know if their mental health improves first and then they are more motivated to quit smoking or if quitting smoking leads to an improvement in mental health,” Cavazos–Rehg said. 

Cavazos–Rehg and her team analyzed questionnaires of close to 35,000 people gathered in the early 2000s as part of the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions. As part of the study, respondents answered questions about drinking, smoking, and mental health in two interviews conducted three years apart. 

At the time of the first interview, about 40 percent of daily smokers suffered mood or anxiety disorders or had a history of these problems. In addition, about 50 percent of daily smokers had alcohol problems, and some 24 percent had drug problems.

Forty-two percent of those who had continued smoking during the years between the two surveys suffered mood disorders, compared with 29 percent of those who quit smoking. Alcohol problems affected 18 percent of those who had quit smoking versus 28 percent who had continued smoking. And drug abuse problems affected only 5 percent of those who had quit smoking compared with 16 percent of those who had continued smoking.

Source: “Smoking Cessation Is Associated With Lower Rates of Mood/Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorder,” published Feb. 12, 2014, online in the journal Psychological Medicine. Complete article Press release from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.


Teenage Behavior Online Is Nothing New, Says Researcher

Excerpted from “Online, Researcher Says, Teens Do What They’ve Always Done,” by Elizabeth Blair, Feb. 25, 2014, about the book, “It’s Complicated,” by danah boyd (who uses lowercase for her first and last names).

“[Danah boyd] spent about eight years studying teenagers and how they interact online. She says she wrote 

the book in part to help parents, educators, and journalists relax. ‘The kids are all right,’ she says. …

“She says, like adults, teenagers are figuring out how to present themselves in different contexts. One of the chapters in her new book is all about why teenagers seem to behave so strangely online. “They’re trying to figure out the boundaries with regard to their peers. So what is cool? What is funny? What will get them a lot of attention good or bad?” says boyd. …

“For the most part, boyd says, teenagers are doing online what they’ve always done. The difference now is that—if that teenager isn’t careful—the world can see it. … 

“Context is everything, says boyd. She believes teenagers’ behavior online is often misinterpreted without it. … 

“Author danah boyd says she was going to call her new book ‘Like D’oh!,’ because so many of the teenagers she interviewed think all of this is obvious. But instead, perhaps to help adults feel better, it’s called, ‘It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.’”

Source: NPR story