drugsPeople with a mental illness who also abuse substances are nearly twice as likely to be violent during their lifetime than those who 'just' have mental illness, according to new research.

The lifetime prevalence of violence by people with mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder is 16%, whereas people without a mental illness who abuse substances have a 35% lifetime prevalence of violence.

But the highest prevalence is among those who add substance abuse to mental illness where the figure rises to 44%.

In delivering the keynote address at today's Royal College of Psychiatrists’ International Conference in Birmingham [29 June], professor Renée Binder, president of the American Psychiatric Association, said: "The association between violence and mental illness is smaller [than many believe].

"In both the US and in Great Britain, there is the incorrect perception that people with mental illness pose a significant risk of violence," Prof Binder added. "Factors affecting a person’s potential to be violent are many and varied; the greatest is having a history of violence. Historical and clinical factors such as age, gender, diagnosis and socioeconomic status are also influences and these can be modified by situational factors such as setting and circumstances.

"Other aspects that affect the risk of violence by people with mental illness include the type of acute symptoms, the stage of illness, issues related to medication compliance and interpersonal factors, particularly relationships with family members."

Within the research presented by Binder, she asserted that: "most people with mental illness are not violent" as 95% of violent acts are carried out by people not suffering mental illness, and those with mental illness "are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators".

Other speakers at the event include Britain's most recent Nobel Laureate Sir John O'Keefe, neuro-imaging expert Helen Mayburg and former children's commissioner Maggie Atkinson. For highlights from the key talks at the event follow @mhtodaymag with #RCPsychIC.