Oxford study finds depression linked to violence

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The University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry has released a study revealing that those diagnosed with depression are around three times more likely than the rest of the general population to commit violent crimes.

Violent crime was defined by the study as a conviction for homicide or attempted homicide, aggravated or common assault, robbery, arson, and sexual offences.

Researchers uncovered that 3.7 per cent of men and 0.5 per cent of women who were identified as clinically depressed committed a violent crime, in comparison with 1.2 per cent of men and 0.2 per cent of women in the general population.

However, the study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, was keen to emphasise that the overwhelming majority of depressed people are neither violent nor criminal and that the study does not seek to stigmatise those with mental health afflictions.

Researchers tracked the medical records and conviction rates of 47,158 people in Sweden diagnosed with depression during a three year period. They then proceeded to compare the data with the records of another 898,454 people, who had no history of diagnosed depression.

Achim Wolf, a research assistant in Oxford’s Department of Pyschiatry and somebody who worked on the study, told Cherwell, “First and foremost, our findings are destigmatising, emphasising that the vast majority of people with depression are not violent. However, the fact that there is an increased risk should encourage patients, their carers, and doctors to discuss and address any violent thoughts and behaviour patterns. Depression is an increasingly important public health issue.

“Studying its relationship with violence could help us better understand how to prevent violent crime and possibly reduce other adverse outcomes.”

He continued to discuss whether doctors’ guidelines or public policy should take into account this potential risk of violence, commenting, “Doctors routinely assess risks of suicide and self-harm in patients with depression. This is not currently done for violence. Our findings suggest that clinical guidelines should consider violence risk assessment in some patients.”

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Paul Farmer, the Chief Executive of mental health charity Mind, commented, “Depression is the most common mental health problem, affecting one in ten people in England.

“The vast majority of people who experience depression pose no risk to others. In fact, they are far more likely to take their own life or self-harm than be violent towards others, as this research clearly shows.

“The link between dangerous behaviour and mental health is often exaggerated in the media, which fuels public misunderstanding and makes people fearful to talk about mental health issues. There is still a tremendous amount of stigma about mental health problems which can make it hard for people to come forward and seek the help they need.”