Mental Health Patients ‘Suffering Routine Abuse From Neighbours’

Most people with mental health problems are routinely subjected to physical and sexual abuse or theft by their neighbours, a new study indicates.

Nearly three quarters of those suffering from conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have been victimised in the community at least once in the past two years, with one in ten being sexually assaulted, according to a report by the mental health charity Mind.

A survey by the charity found that 41 per cent of respondents complained of persistent bullying, 27 per cent of sexual harrassment and 10 per cent of sexual assault. Just over a third – 34 per cent – said that they had also been victims of theft or financial crime, and a quarter had their homes targeted.

Comparisons with previous studies suggest that the problem is increasing, with the latest figures showing that people with mental health problems are far more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violent crime. Yet the study suggests that many crimes go unreported, with vulnerable adults feeling stigmatised by the police and legal system because of their illness.

Others complained of being told that “harassment is too much paper-work” by police officers or of being dismissed as “mad as a bunch of frogs”, the report says.

Although the public are likely to associate mental health problems with violence, only five out of a total of 600 homicides a year are random attacks on members of the public by someone with a psychiatric illness.

Mental health problems afflict one in four of the British population at some time in his or her live. Attempts to integrate patients into the community may have made them more vulnerable to abuse, the study suggests.

The charity surveyed nearly 400 people with direct experience of mental distress and their care workers. Seventy-one per cent of respondents had been abused or harassed in public in the past two years, compared with 48 per cent in a similar study conducted 11 years ago. Twenty-two per cent had been physically attacked, up from 14 per cent in 1996.

Many crimes against distressed people were going unrecognised, Mind said, with 30 per cent of victims telling no one at all what had happened. Of these, a third said that they felt that they would not be believed, while 60 per cent of those who did report a crime thought that the authorities failed to treat them seriously.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “Like other vulnerable groups, people living with mental health problems in the community experience shockingly high rates of crime and victimisation. Yet the report shows people with mental distress feel disempowered to speak out against injustices. Just 6 per cent – nine people – were completely satisfied with the outcome of their case.”

Courts in England and Wales already have the power to impose tougher sentences for people who commit offences that are motivated or aggravated by a victim’s disability, including mental illness. But a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that the increased sentencing provision for “disability-aggravated crimes” was used in only 68 cases in the last two quarters for which there was information. The CPS deals with about a million cases every year.