The mentally ill are more vulnerable to assault and even homicide than the general population, in part due to the prevalence of mental illness. Julian Omidi examines a recent study that suggests that homeless individuals with mental disorders are five times more likely to be murdered than those who don’t suffer from psychiatric disorders.
Homeless people are statistically more likely to suffer from a mental disease or disorder than the rest of the population. Sadly, the harsh conditions of life on the streets coupled with the inability to cope in a rational and productive manner make it far more likely for a homeless person to be the victim of a violent assault. According to a study from researchers in Sweden, it is also more statistically likely for such a person to be the victim of a homicide.
The study was published online in the British Medical Journal. The researchers in Sweden studied the 615 murders which occurred between the years 2001 and 2008, and used governmental registries to determine whether or not the victims were diagnosed with any kind of mental disease or disorder. It was determined that a person suffering from mental illness is five times more likely to be the victim of a homicide than a person without a psychiatric illness.
The category of people at the highest risk is substance abusers, who are believed to be nine times more likely to be murdered than the rest of the population. Following that are people with personality disorders (borderline personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are three examples), schizophrenia, and depression, who are between two and three times as likely to be homicide victims as people without mental disorders.
Although the homicide rate in Sweden is a fraction of what it is in the United States, smaller U.S. studies have yielded similar findings.
While the Swedish study did not focus specifically on the homeless population, the overall death rate among the homeless is roughly four times that of the rest of the population. Not only must the homeless endure extreme heat and cold, they are also vulnerable to infectious diseases (as we have seen with the tuberculosis outbreak in downtown Los Angeles). However, the exposure to violence, robbery, assault and even murder is absolutely stunning; homeless people are not only attacked by other homeless, but also teenagers and thugs who beat them in what are beginning to be classified as hate crimes. As a result of such a high percentage of the homeless population suffering from a mental disorder, many of the victims do not have the stability to report assaults.
Homeless shelters do not offer much security either. Homeless shelter inhabitants can be raped, beaten, and robbed almost as easily as they can on the streets due to overcrowding and lack of security.
The more we learn about the horrifying realities of life on the streets, the more duty-bound we become to do something about it. Whether it involves local or state initiatives or private programs, we must become a nation and a culture that no longer finds ignoring the crisis of poverty acceptable.
By Julian Omidi
 Bakalar, Nicholas: Mental Illness and Vulnerability New York Times 3/11/2013 http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/11/mental-illness-and-vulnerability/?ref=health