We worry too much about violence from people with mental illness…

Courtesy  Jon Tyson

Courtesy Jon Tyson

…and not nearly enough about violence TO them.

A common question I get about mental health:

“Aren’t you afraid of being attacked?”

In years of work: no, not once. Like, not even a slap.

And during that same time, I know several colleagues who’ve been attacked by—wait for it—patient relatives.

Yup. You read that right.

Not to say patient relatives are more violent than people with mental disorders. But you get the idea.

Another interesting thing: when patients I’ve been treating have indeed been violent, further probing often revealed the “victim” provoked it.

They never volunteered that though.

This is anecdotal of course. But so are the stories people tell that demonise people with mental illness, so…yeah.

You want stats though?

Violence among people with mental illness is about same as in everyone else. So there’s that too. (If you’d like a bit more on that, check out this article I wrote awhile back.)

Since we’re doing anecdotes tho, here’s another one: every single person I’ve been involved in the treatment of who’s been mentally ill and living on the streets has experienced sexual abuse.

Which, mind you, is totally among the worst forms of violence.

So here’s a thought for the next time you see a “mad” person “roaming the streets”: I know you’ll be a bit afraid of being attacked. But while feeling that fear, I’d like you to think this thought:

If they’re female, you’re almost certainly looking at a rape victim.

And just in case you’re wondering, the most likely people to rape them will not be mentally ill.

And if your next thought is “But a non-mentally ill person wouldn’t rape a mentally ill street person!” — kindly allow me to welcome you to reality.

Because, well, you’re wrong.

And it’s not just rape. That’s just one of the worse ones. People with mental illness are likely to be attacked, accused of theft, beaten, sometimes even killed. Maybe you’ve even seen it happen.

So next time, feel the fear by all means—but consider:

Who’s really in more danger?

Moral of the story?

People with mental illness are in far more danger of violence than you might imagine. From both strangers and yes, their own family. And the more serious their illness, the more danger they are in.

They just don’t get to tell their side of the story.