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People with mental health problems are up to ten times more likely to become victims of crime than the general population, according to new research by charities and academics.
'At risk, yet dismissed: the criminal victimisation of people with mental health problems' also found people with severe mental illness were more likely to be repeat victims of crime, yet were far less likely to be satisfied with their treatment by police. They were also more affected by crime than those without mental health problems.
It is the first UK survey on crime against people with severe mental illness compared with crime against the general population. The findings paint a stark picture of the risks and the barriers people with mental health problems face in getting the help they need.
The research was a partnership of independent charity Victim Support, the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, Mind, the mental health charity, 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 authors today publish specific recommendations for police and the criminal justice system, the health service, housing and other agencies and charities and call for an urgent national debate across Government on how to respond to the needs of victims of crime with mental health problems.
Victim Support 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. We look forward to making a key contribution to this debate."
Mind's Chief Executive Paul Farmer said: "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."
The three year study was funded by The Big Lottery Fund and interviewed a random sample of 361 people with severe mental illness in London. In-depth interviews were conducted with 81 people with mental health problems who had been victims of crime during the last three years.
It found that:
In interviews, many people with mental health problems described not being believed or even blamed when they attempted to report a crime to the police or seek help from other services.
"It was almost as if they were saying 'it's your own fault... 'are you sure this wasn't a drunk mistake?' And that was said twice and that is something that a person never forgets." Female victim of sexual violence.
Many were reluctant to report crimes to police or other professionals, saying they feared their illness would be used to discredit them or they would be sectioned.
'If I'm punched or kicked or knocked down to the floor I just get up and walk away because I don't want trouble in my life. [Reporting to the police] can backfire on you and you can so easily be labelled as dangerous, and end up getting sectioned.' Male victim of assault and antisocial behaviour.
Others reported positive experiences with the police, saying that being treated with concern and sympathy was crucial.
"They have come and they have listened to me. Although they haven't done anything at least they have listened... in my mind my worries have been noted." Female victim of assault.
Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release. Click 'references' tab above for source.
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