Link Between Crime and Mental Illness Identified

By Catriona Bonfiglioli, AAP National Medical Correspondent
SYDNEY, May 17 AAP - New evidence of the link between mental illness
and criminal behaviour has been uncovered by research to be presented to
the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP)
annual congress next week.

A New Zealand study of men and women admitted to psychiatric hospital
found seven per cent of men with no history of imprisonment ended up in
prison or other custody within five years of their hospital stay.
"About twice as many men as you would expect in the general community
end up having a custodial sentence in the next five years," Professor
Peter Ellis of New Zealand's Wellington School of Medicine said in a
telephone interview from Rotorua today.

Only two per cent of women treated in a psychiatric hospital ended up
serving a custodial sentence within five years of their hospital stay but
this was nine times the imprisonment rate of women in the general
community, Prof Ellis and fellow researchers found.

"The vast majority of people with a mental illness are no more likely
to commit a serious offence than anybody else," he said.
"There are reasons other than serious mental illness why people do
dreadful things.

"However, we need to acknowledge there's a small proportion of mentally
ill people who do (DO) represent a significant risk to society.
"This small proportion accounts for the increased rates of imprisonment
after psychiatric hospitalisation."

Prof Ellis said more efforts should be made to identify which people
with mental problems were a risk to themselves or others.
The study also found 26 per cent of people admitted to psychiatric
hospitals were readmitted within five years, while 42 per cent of
imprisoned men and 33 per cent of imprisoned women ended up back in
custody within five years.

About 10 per cent of prisoners were later admitted to psychiatric hospitals.
Prof Ellis would present the findings to the Wellington, New Zealand,
conference scheduled to be opened by New Zealand Health Minister Jenny
Shipley at 9am local time on Monday.

Conference speakers will talk on gender roles, gambling, arachnophobia,
juvenile delinquency, fatherhood, eating disorders, stress attacks, the
impact of international adoptions on mental health, schizophrenia, health
care reforms and other issues.
AAP cat/arw/