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Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2006 Sep;41(9):698-703. Epub 2006 Jun 23.

Violence in psychiatric units: a 7-year Italian study of persistently assaultive patients.

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  • 1Section of Psychiatry, Department of Medical Sciences of Communication and Behaviour, University of Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy.



The problem of violence and aggressive behaviour among patients with psychiatric disorders need careful assessment to improve the quality of psychiatric care. The aim of this paper is to describe the characteristics of repeated episodes of violence among patients admitted to an Italian psychiatric ward.


All violent behaviours, which occurred in a 15-bed psychiatric inpatient unit over a 7-year period, were assessed by using the Staff Observation Aggression scale (SOAS).


Of a total of 3.507 admissions, 409 aggressive episodes were recorded by 160 patients (rate per admission 11.6%). A total of 65 patients exhibited two or more episodes and 95 patients showed a single episode. Repeatedly violent patients had a higher length of stay in the unit, a higher number of previous admissions and a higher number of previous violent episodes. No difference was found in terms of psychiatric diagnosis, socio-demographic variables, type of admission (voluntary versus involuntary), ward overcrowding and characteristics of violent episodes (means, aims and consequence).


In spite of the low prevalence of violent incidents among Italian psychiatric inpatients, careful monitoring of clinical variables associated with repeated violent episodes may help physicians recognise and prevent violence episodes among acute psychiatric inpatients.

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