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Hosp Community Psychiatry. 1994 Feb;45(2):133-7.

The relationship between acute psychiatric symptoms, diagnosis, and short-term risk of violence.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco 94143.



Previous research on violence and mental disorder has typically focused on the relationship between diagnosis and risk of violence or between symptoms within a particular diagnostic category and risk of violence. The authors' goal was to evaluate whether the pattern of symptoms associated with short-term risk of violence varies depending on patients' diagnoses.


Subjects were 330 patients with a variety of diagnoses who were hospitalized on a university-based, locked psychiatric inpatient unit. At hospital admission, physicians rated patients' symptoms using the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale. Nurses rated whether patients became violent during hospitalization by completing the Overt Aggression Scale at the end of each shift.


Assaultive patients had different symptom patterns than nonassaultive patients. Symptoms patterns varied significantly across diagnostic groups, and the symptom patterns associated with violence also varied significantly across diagnostic groups. Higher levels of hostile-suspiciousness, agitation-excitement, and thinking disturbance were generally associated with violence, although these symptoms were less predictive of assaultiveness among schizophrenic patients than among patients in other diagnostic groups.


Symptom profiles represent a useful level of analysis for understanding the relationship between violence and psychopathology. However, the value of particular symptom profiles as indicators of imminent violence varies with diagnosis.

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