People with mental ill health are up to 10 times more likely to become victims of crime than the general population, according to new research by charities and academics.
The report ‘At risk, yet dismissed: the criminal victimisation of people with mental health problems’ paints a stark picture of the risks and barriers people with mental ill health face in getting the help they need. For instance, it found people with severe mental illness were more likely to be repeat victims of crime, yet far less likely to be satisfied with their treatment by police. They were also more affected by crime than those without mental ill health.
This is the first UK survey on crime against people with severe mental illness compared with crime against the general population. The research was a partnership of charity Victim Support, the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, mental health charity Mind, the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, in collaboration with UCL (University College London).
The report’s authors have also made recommendations for police and the criminal justice system, the health service, housing and other agencies and charities and called for an urgent national debate across Government on how to respond to the needs of victims of crime with mental ill health.
The three-year study was funded by The Big Lottery Fund and included interviews with a random sample of 361 people with severe mental illness in London. In-depth interviews were also conducted with 81 people with mental health problems who had been victims of crime during the past 3 years. It found that:
• People with severe mental illness were 3 times more likely to be a victim of any crime than those without
• People with severe mental illness were 5 times more likely to experience assault than those without
• Women with severe mental illness were 10 times more likely to experience assault than those without
• Nearly 45% of people with severe mental illness reported experiencing crime in the last year
• 62% of women with severe mental illness reported being victims of sexual violence as adults
• People with severe mental illness were 7 times more likely to experience three or more different types of crime in a year than the general population
• People with severe mental illness were significantly more likely to report the police had been unfair or disrespectful compared to the general population.
Victim Support’s chief executive, Javed Khan, said: “It is nothing short of a national scandal that some of the most vulnerable people in our society become victims of crime so often and yet when they seek help they are met with disbelief or even blame.
“It is unacceptable that the criminal justice system fails to meet the needs of people with mental health problems when this report shows all too clearly the terrible impact of crime on them.
“There must be an urgent debate across Government, commissioners, criminal justice agencies and the voluntary and public sectors on how best to begin a swift and effective process of reform.”
Mind’s chief executive, Paul Farmer, added: “Being a victim of crime is a horrible experience for anyone to cope with but when you have a mental health problem the impact on your life can be even worse.
“People with mental health problems have an equal right to justice, yet this report reveals that this is not the reality for far too many of us. It is unacceptable that the police, healthcare staff and others who are supposed to support victims of crime may be dismissive of or not believe a person’s experience, or may even blame them for the crime.
“We are calling on the police, commissioners, healthcare staff, support agencies, local and national government to work together and improve services for people with mental health problems who are the victims of crime.”
Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of Turning Point and chair of the Independent Commission into Mental Health and Policing added: “This report makes for uncomfortable reading. It is unacceptable that those with mental health issues are discriminated against by a system that is designed to protect all citizens.”
He added that the Commission, which published its report in May, found that although mental health is core business for the police, it is often not treated as such. “The Commission called for better training for police officers and those working across the health and social care sector in relation to supporting those with mental health issues. This report further emphasises the central importance of this. Parity of esteem will not exist while inequalities like this remain in the system.”
The report made 10 headline recommendations:
• Develop a strategic response to support and protect people with mental health problems who are victims of crime
• Train all staff in health, social care and police services, especially frontline staff, on the experiences and needs of people with mental health problems as victims of crime and how to respond appropriately
• Support people with mental health problems to tell someone if they have been a victim of crime
• Measure and improve police and CPS responses to crimes reported by people with mental health problems
• Develop effective services that address the substantial impact that being a victim of crime has on people with mental health problems
• Remove the barriers and improve the experience of people with mental health problems in court
• Improve communication with people with mental health problems
• Empower and support people with mental health problems to help individuals take proactive steps to prevent repeat victimisation themselves where possible
• Work collaboratively in partnership to provide joined up services for people with mental health problems
• Increase and develop understanding of why people with mental health problems are at such greater risk of crime.