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Why do mentally ill people become aggressive?

A common belief is that people with a mental illness are dangerous because they can suddenly become aggressive. In reality, they are no more dangerous than anyone else. It is true that, in some instances, the symptoms of a mental illness can lead to aggressive behaviour, but this is rare. Let us consider some important examples of how mental illness can lead to aggression. • Hearing voices and becoming angry. Imagine that you were hearingvoices that said nasty things about you and made you feel that others were plotting to kill you. You would feel scared andattack those who you believed were trying to harm you. This iswhat can happen, sometimes, in people who have a psychoticillness.

• Being stopped from carrying out your plans and dreams. Imagine that you had great plans and dreams to do things that would change your life. If someone tried to stop you, or told you that you were ‘sick’, you would probably be quite angry. This is what can happen, sometimes, in people with a manic illness.

• Being unable to get a drink in time. Imagine that you were so dependent on alcohol (or a drug) thatyou began to feel physically sick because of your desire for a drink. You might become aggressive if someone tried to stop you from getting a drink.

• Suffering from confusion. Imagine that you have difficulty remembering things. You do not knowwhere you are, what time or day it is, or who is speaking to you. You may become frightened andfeel you need to defend yourself from these strangers. Such a state of confusion can be caused bydrinking too much alcohol, low blood sugar, brain infections and brain damage.

Like anyone else, those who have a mental illness usually have a reason for becoming aggressive. If you can find out why a person is angry, then you are more likely to find ways to help.

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