Although violence is a vital public health problem, no prospective studies have tested for subsequent vulnerability to violence, as a victim or witness, in members of the general population with a range of psychiatric symptoms, or evaluated the importance of higher symptom burden on this vulnerability.
We used successive waves of a household survey of Southeast London, taken 2 years apart, to test if association exists between psychiatric symptoms (symptoms of psychosis, common mental disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorder) and later victimisation, in the form of either witnessing violence or being physically victimised, in weighted logistic regression models. Statistical adjustment was made for prior violence exposure, sociodemographic confounders, substance/alcohol use and violence perpetration. Sensitivity analyses were stratified by violence perpetration, sex and history of mental health service use.
After adjustments, psychiatric symptoms were prospectively associated with reporting any subsequent victimisation (odds ratio (OR) 1.88, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.25–2.83), a two times greater odds of reporting witnessed violence (OR 2.24, 95% CI 1.33–3.76) and reporting physical victimisation (OR 1.76, 95% CI 1.01–3.06). One more symptom endorsed was accompanied by 47% greater odds of subsequent victimisation (OR 1.47, 95% CI 1.16–1.86). In stratified analyses, statistical associations remained evident in non-perpetrators, and among those without a history of using mental health services, and were similar in magnitude in both men and women.
Psychiatric symptoms increase liability to victimisation compared with those without psychiatric symptoms, independently of a prior history of violence exposure and irrespective of whether they themselves are perpetrators of violence. Clinicians should be mindful of the impact of psychiatric symptoms on vulnerability to victimisation, including among those with common psychiatric symptoms and among those who are not considered at risk of perpetrating violence.