Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Increased risk for family members

Family members are the primary caregivers for people with severe mental illnesses who live in the community. If their loved one has an untreated severe mental illness, they face a very real risk of violence. A 1997 study focusing on the prevalence of abuse faced by families of individuals with a mental illness found that 32 percent of relatives had been struck on at least one or two occasions. Verbal abuse, threats, and temper outbursts were reported by more than 50 percent of the relatives. The American Psychiatric Association notes that

"Family members are most at risk of a violent act committed by a mentally ill person … [Another study] found that among those who had attacked people prior to their admission [to a psychiatric hospital], 65 percent ... had attacked a family member."

Two stories that made the news this week emphasize the danger families can face if a loved one with untreated mental illness becomes violent:

In Palo Alto, California this week a middle-aged man with paranoid schizophrenia stabbed his brother to death in their mother’s home where both men were living. The middle aged man had a long history of mental illness and criminal activity.

In Indiana, a younger sibling is alleged to have shot his older brother in self-defense after the older brother, who had bipolar disorder attacked his younger sibling.

Of course, individuals with severe psychiatric disorders are no more dangerous than the general population - IF they are being treated. Click here for tips on what to do if someone with severe mental illness does become assaultive.

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