Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-cf9d5c678-8r4lv Total loading time: 0.357 Render date: 2021-07-27T02:14:05.944Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Homicides by people with mental illness: myth and reality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Pamela J. Taylor
Institute of Psychiatry, London
John Gunn
Institute of Psychiatry, London



Tragic and high-profile killings by people with mental illness have been used to suggest that the community care model for mental health services has failed.


To consider whether such homicides have become more frequent as psychiatric services have changed.


Data were extracted from Home Office-generated criminal statistics for England and Wales between 1957 and 1995 and subjected to trends analysis.


There was little fluctuation in numbers of people with a mental illness committing criminal homicide over the 38 years studied, and a 3% annual decline in their contribution to the official statistics.


There are many reasons for improving the resources and quality of care for people with a mental disorder, but there is no evidence that it is anything but stigmatising to claim that their living in the community is a dangerous experiment that should be reversed. There appears to be some case for specially focused improvement of services for people with a personality disorder and/or substance misuse.

Review Article
Copyright © 1999 The Royal College of Psychiatrists 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Declaration of interest



Appleby, L. (1997) National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness. London: Department of Health.Google ScholarPubMed
Cold, J. (1983) The epidemiology of abnormal homicide and murder followed by suicide. Psychological Medicine, 13, 855860.Google Scholar
Collins, W. (1860) The Woman in White (currently published Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1997).Google Scholar
Dell, S. (1984) Murder into Manslaughter (Maudsley Monograph No. 27). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1997) Road Accidents Great Britain 1996. The Casualty Report. London: TSO (HMSO).Google Scholar
Department of Health (1994) Guidance on the Discharge of Mentally Disordered People and their Continuing Care in the Community. NHS Executive HSG (94) 27 and LASSL (94)4. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
Department of Health (1995) Building Bridges. A Guide to Arrangements for Inter-Agency Working for the Care and Protection of Severely Mentally 111 People. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
Gabrielsen, G., Gottlieb, P. & Kramp, P. (1992) Criminal homicide trends in Copenhagen. Studies on Crime and Crime Prevention, 1, 106114.Google Scholar
Gibson, E. & Klein, S. (1969) Murder 1957 to 1968. Home Office Research Studies 3. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
Gottlieb, P., Gabrielsen, G. & Kramp, P. (1987) Psychotic homicides in Copenhagen from 1959 to 1983. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 76, 285292.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gunn, J. & Taylor, P. J. (1993) Forensic Psychiatry Clinical, Legal and Ethical Issues. London: Butterworth Heinemann.Google Scholar
Häfner, H. & Böker, W. (1973) (translated by Marshall, H. 1982) Crimes of Violence by Mentally Abnormal Offenders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Hansen, J. P. H. (1977) Drab; Danmark, 1946–1970 (in Danish with English Summary). Copenhagen: Munksgaard.Google Scholar
Home Office (1977, and annually until 1997) Criminal Statistics England and Wales. London: HMSO.Google ScholarPubMed
Lindqvist, P. (1989) Violence Against a Person. The role of Mental Disorder and Abuse. Umayer University Medical Dissertations New Series No. 254. Umeå, Sweden: Umayer University.Google Scholar
Marks, I. M., Connelly, J., Muijen, M., et al (1994) Home-based versus hospital-based care for people with serious mental illness. British Journal of Psychiatry, 165, 179194.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mackay, C. (1869) Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Mason, P. & Wilkinson, G. (1996) The prevalence of psychiatric morbidity. OPCS survey of psychiatric morbidity in Great Britain. British purnal of Psychiatry, 168, 13.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Peay, J. (ed.) (1996) Inquiries after Homicide. London: Duckworth.Google Scholar
Peay, J. (ed.) (1997) Clinicians and inquiries: Demons, drones or demigods? International Review of Psychiatry, 9, 171177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Petursson, H. & Gudjonsson, G. H. (1981) Psychiatric aspects of homicide. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 64, 363372.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Reiss, A. J. & Roth, J. A. (ed.) (1993) Understanding and Preventing Violence, p. 346. Washington. DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
Robertson, G. (1988) Arrest patterns among mentally disordered offenders. British Journal of Psychiatry, 153, 313316.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Schipkowensky, N. (1973) Epidemiological aspects of homicide. In World Biennial of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, vol. 2 (ed. Arieti, S.). pp. 192215. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Swanson, J. W., Holzer, C. E., Ganju, V. K., et al (1990) Violence and psychiatric disorder in the community: evidence from the Epidemiologic Catchment Area surveys. Hospital and Community Psychiatry, 41, 761770.Google ScholarPubMed
Taylor, P. J. (1986) Psychiatric disorder in London's life-sentenced prisoners. British purnal of Criminology, 26, 6378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Taylor, P. J. (1995) Schizophrenia and the risk of violence. In Schizophrenia (eds Hirsch, S. R. & Weinberger, D. R.), pp. 163183. Oxford: Blackwell Science.Google ScholarPubMed
Taylor, P. J. & Gunn, J. C. (1984) Violence and psychosis. British Medical Journal, 288, 19451949; 289, 9–12.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Taylor, P. J., Leese, M., Williams, D., et al (1998) Mental disorder and violence. A special (high security) hospital study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 172, 218226.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Wessely, S., Castle, D., Douglas, A. J., et al (1994) The criminal careers of incident cases of schizophrenia. Psychological Medicine, 24, 483502.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Wikström, P. H. (1992) Context-specific trends in criminal homicide in Stockholm 1951–1987. In Studies on Crime & Crime Prevention (National Council for Crime Prevention), vol. 1. pp. 88105. Oslo/Stockholm: Scandinavian University Press.Google Scholar
Wilcox, D. E. (1985) The relationship of mental illness to homicide. American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 6, 315.Google Scholar
Wing, J. K. (1990) The functions of asylum. British Journal of Psychiatry, 157, 822827.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Homicides by people with mental illness: myth and reality
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Homicides by people with mental illness: myth and reality
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Homicides by people with mental illness: myth and reality
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *