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J Health Soc Behav. 1995 Jun;36(2):122-37.

The social context of mental illness and violence.

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Department of Sociology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh 27695-8107, USA.


For years a debate existed in the literature concerning whether or not mentally ill persons were more dangerous than others. Empirical work was hampered by conceptual and methodological shortcomings, and was therefore unable to settle the debate. Recently, methodologically sophisticated studies have produced evidence which indicates a modest association between active major mental disorders and violence. While some interpret this association to mean that mental illness or particular symptoms directly cause unwarranted physical aggression, this paper examines the case for the social context establishing socializing and environmental conditions which are causal in both violence and the development of mental disorder. It reviews the literature, indicating lacunae in our knowledge base, and posits a causal model which links social stratification with both mental illness and violence through the structured types of strains, events, situations and persons an individual experiences as an integral part of life.

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