Serious mental illness and incidents between adult children and parents responded to by police [2020]

Despite a sizable minority of persons with serious mental illness (SMI) acting aggressively toward family members, little is known about this topic. The objectives of the present analyses are to examine the association of offenders’ SMI status with offender behaviors and victim outcomes and to compare the immediate contextual characteristics of incidents involving offenders with and without SMI.

Using a cross-sectional design, all incidents of domestic violence to which police were called between adult children and their parents in Philadelphia, PA, in 2013 (N = 6191) were analyzed. Additionally, incidents in which the offender was indicated to have SMI (n = 327) were matched with a sample of incidents in which the offender was not indicated to have SMI (n = 327).

Offenders having SMI was not associated with using a bodily weapon or gun, threatening victims, or damaging property. Offenders having SMI was associated with a decreased risk of offenders using a non-gun external weapon and victims being observed to have a complaint of pain or visible injuries. When offenders had SMI, conflict was less likely to focus on family issues and more likely to focus on offenders’ behaviors and to involve contextual characteristics related to mental illness.

Efforts to prevent gun and other violence between non-intimate partner family members should target factors more strongly associated with violence than SMI (e.g. history of domestic violence, substance abuse). Intervening in family aggression by persons with SMI likely requires addressing unique circumstances these parties experience.

Travis Labrum and Phyllis Solomon
Psychological Medicine, 14 July 2020