Police Violence Victims at Increased Risk of Psychotic Symptoms

Researchers examine links between police victimization and psychotic symptoms in a topical new study

Rebecca Troeger
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A cross-disciplinary team of researchers in social work, public health, public policy and psychology explored connections between police victimization and “sub-threshold psychotic experiences” (PEs) in a recent study published in the Schizophrenia Bulletin. The team, led by Jordan E. DeVylder at the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s School of Social Work, found that victims of police violence were more likely to report PEs than non-victims.

“Efforts to improve documentation of police killings have produced of nearly 1100 killings per year in the United States (2015 estimate), compared with 7 in Germany (2012), 1 in England (2013–2014) and 0 in Japan (2013–2015). It is likely that this pervasive pattern of victimization has collateral effects that go beyond mortality to include psychological distress and other mental health symptoms.”

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DeVylder and his research team hypothesized that experiences of police victimization would place individuals at increased risk for PEs, which they define as “hallucination and delusion-like experiences that resemble symptoms of psychotic disorders but are typically of less intensity, persistence, or impairment.”

Their study is informed by the social defeat hypothesis, which understands psychotic symptom risk to be a function of long-term or recurrent contact with environmental stressors that are felt to be “socially exclusionary or defeating.” The authors note that prior research has uncovered connections between PEs and a number of other social defeat experiences, including childhood trauma, racial discrimination, migration, and acculturative stress.

The researchers suggest that police victimization is a particularly potent kind of social defeat experience given the police’s comparative power in society, one which likely produces strong feelings of “distress, powerlessness, and social defeat” in victims. They write that while police shootings have received extensive media coverage in the U.S. in recent years, violent interactions with police likely also have less visible, lasting effects on survivors’ mental health. It is these less recognized consequences that the researchers seek to bring to light in their research.

In order to investigate whether police victimization is connected to heightened risk for PEs, the researchers analyzed data from the Survey of Police-Public Encounters, an online survey administered to adults in Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C in March and April 2016 (N = 1615). The survey measured “lifetime exposure” to four kinds of police violence — physical, sexual, psychological, and neglect — and collected information on participants’ experiences of psychotic symptoms, including delusional mood, delusions of paranoia and persecution, delusions of thought control, and hallucinations.

The survey also collected demographic data and information on crime involvement and psychological distress, in order to statistically control for these factors’ possible influence. 20.8% of the sample (n = 335) reported PEs. The researchers noted several differences in the profiles of respondents who reported PEs compared to those who did not: those who reported PEs were more likely to be Black or Latino, male, participating in crime, and were younger. They were less likely to be heterosexual, and had lower income and education levels than those who did not report PEs.

Police violence victims’ “predicted probability” of experiencing a psychotic symptom was 45.5%, compared to 19.0% for non-victims. The authors also found that “prevalence of PEs increased with greater exposure to police victimization in a linear dose-response relation.”

After adjusting for demographic variables, psychological distress, and crime involvement, high odds ratios (ORs) were found for links between sexual victimization and paranoia (OR = 7.16), sexual victimization and thought control (OR = 3.98), and physical victimization with a weapon and hallucinations (OR = 6.72). An odds ratio indicates the likelihood that an outcome (e.g. PEs) will happen in the presence of a specific exposure (e.g. police victimization), compared to in its absence.

One of the study’s most significant limitations, as is often the case with analyses of survey data, is the fact that the researchers were not able to draw conclusions about causality or “causal direction.” The researchers point out that because the survey focused on lifetime exposure to police violence and they do not have data on the timeline of PE and victimization incidents, it is not possible to know whether PEs might actually increase the probability of police victimization.

Although the researchers believe their hypothesis that victimization leads to PEs to be the more likely chain of events, they note that “even reverse causality would be of public health interest” as it would indicate that police are “more likely to interact with people who [have] severe mental health symptoms with excessive force.”

“These findings align with the possibility that exposure to police violence (or concerns about the lack of accountability for such violence) challenges one’s assumptive worldview, threatening a sense of safety, eroding trust, and breaking confidence that one is a person worthy of respectful treatment by societal institutions.”

The researchers suggest interventions to address these newly established links between police victimization and PEs, including police training on the effects of trauma and community-based services to victims (e.g. therapy, social support) that attend to trauma and social defeat. Given their finding that victimization that occurs within a relationship with a clear power differential (i.e. police-civilian) is a risk factor for PEs, the researchers also propose that the social defeat hypothesis should be revised to incorporate the role of power dynamics.

 

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DeVylder, J. E., Cogburn, C., Oh, H. Y., Anglin, D., Smith, M. E., Sharpe, T., … & Link, B. (2017). Psychotic Experiences in the Context of Police Victimization: Data From the Survey of Police–Public Encounters. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 43(5): p. 993-1001. Doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbx038 (Link)

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Rebecca Troeger
Rebecca Troeger is a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Massachusetts Boston and has a Master’s degree in Psychology. Her work explores how Western psychology can move towards valuing other cultures' knowledge more deeply. She is also interested in the impact of social support and community life on mental health and anti-racism interventions.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. You know it’s way too easy to blame police for their interactions with the public. Let’s examine this quote, “These findings align with the possibility that exposure to police violence (or concerns about the lack of accountability for such violence) challenges one’s assumptive worldview, threatening a sense of safety, eroding trust, and breaking confidence that one is a person worthy of respectful treatment by societal institutions.”

    I don’t agree at all, first off, “police violence”, is needed to restrain or somewhat control these animals that control the streets selling drugs. I bet if you studied that group, they never worked a real job in their respective lives and want everyone to feel sorry for them because their father is either in prison or dead. Personally, I don’t. Opportunity abounds in the USA.

    Please grow a pair because your soft and your approach is all wrong. No body owes anybody anything. It’s an absolute crime when one culture believes that another culture owes the something. You have have life and in such, you either strive to succeed like normal citizens or you choose an alternative pattern with consequences with law enforcement.

    It’s a shame the way police have to deal with such people, however; who else is going to deal with such crime? Clearly, not all police arrests re perfect in their respective activities, however; someone has to police the animals that ring our streets, poison our children and parents. Yes that’s right, it’s the oppressive police. Bottom line, those same police that protect you and I while risking their lives.

    This is not about us versus them, it’s about life in general. Clearly if you put the effort in, you’ll be rewarded (ambition) or should be in time, those that don’t (laziness), well, face the police and the laws of their respective states because of greed and drugs etc. Personally, I can’t be sympathetic to those that don’t try or at least make an effort to improve their lives. I also don’t owe them anything, it is what it is, go forward or backward, is a personal choice that could have repercussions for years to come, at least for those that don’t try to get a better life through education & work experience.

    Just a thought.

    MM

    • Drug suppliers and sellers actually put in lots of hard work. The problem is that they get financially rewarded for their efforts. There are plenty of legal businesses (like making money off of forced “treatment”) that are just as slimy and evil as the illegal drug trade. The problem is when people are financially rewarded for doing destructive things. No amount of policing will ever stop the drug trade as long as people can make so much more money than they can doing honest work.

    • Any victimization that is voiced in any way is open to gaslighting such as “delusions of persecution” as reported in the “Schizophrenia” publication. Can researchers just discuss that any irresponsible, controlling authority may leave people feeling distress, powerless and defeated which is not mental illness but power play? While education and employment may help people not to be victimized, it still requires resources and opportunities be extended to them instead of being blacklisted.

    • Bigot alert!

      someone has to police the animals that ring our streets, poison our children and parents

      Funny, we don’t have that sort of problem with animals where I live, actually the strays are more in danger of being poisoned by stuff they find in the garbage. So I do wish the police would get more involved in this, maybe hold a raffle to start a shelter or something.

  2. MM,

    “Opportunity abounds in the USA … Clearly if you put the effort in, you’ll be rewarded (ambition) or should be in time, those that don’t (laziness), well, face the police and the laws of their respective states because of greed and drugs etc. … Personally, I can’t be sympathetic to those that don’t try or at least make an effort to improve their lives.” Are you an “empathetic mental health professional,” MM?

    There’s also a lot of injustice and criminal behavior going on in the USA these days, MM, so empathy for one’s fellow man is important. For example, I was arguably the number one kitchen bath tile designer in the Chicagoland area in 2009. I say that because I had one client who went to the top five kitchen bath design firms in Chicago, and had all five of the design firms give him designs for a laundry room backslash, that coordinated well with some antique tiles he’d bought in Europe.

    I knew for this particular client that money was no object, he was some “junk bond king” with a vacation home in Georgia. I gave him two basic backsplash designs, and one design for a completely wainscoted laundry room which actually framed his European tiles into the design. Out of all the designs firms he went to, I gave him the one design, so beautiful, that he could not say no to it. I turned a $2000 backsplash sale into a $70,000 wainscoted laundry room sale.

    Shortly after this my boss, after firing every other one of her employees, including her own husband, told me she could no longer afford to pay me my meager $42,000 a year salary. The 2008 banking industry’s destruction of our housing market, with it’s grotesque undervaluations of our homes, had destroyed the market for our country’s entire kitchen bath design industry, except the design firms that were also granite dealers. Since I did not want to work essentially for free, and she’d been paying me two weeks late for months already, and she wanted me to go on commission after losing her showroom, I had to resign. She did eventually go out of business.

    Nonetheless, shortly after this, I was lying in a park, minding my own business, watching the cloud formations while contemplating the magnitude of the reality that I had also just found the medical proof that today’s “antipsychotics” are actually medically known to cause “psychosis,” via anticholinergic toxidrome. Contrary to all the lies I’d been told by all the “mental health professionals” I’d thankfully escaped, who’d claimed this impossible.

    I was medically unnecessarily taken to a hospital by an unethical police man due to lying in a free city park, minding my own business, and trying to mentally comprehend the magnitude of the medical and religious betrayal with which I’d previously dealt. And based upon a “medically clear” diagnosis and no signed HIPPA forms, I was illegally shipped in the middle of the night back to the psychiatric “snowing” partner of this now FBI convicted, criminal doctor, doctors who I had the misfortune of dealing with in 2006.

    https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndil/pr/oak-brook-doctor-convicted-kickback-scheme-sacred-heart-hospital

    In 2010, I learned that my allowing my husband to manage the family finances for the few years that I was working on healing from the psychiatric iatrogenesis I’d dealt with, had resulted in him making some insanely stupid and unethical financial choices. I learned my home, that I had put $250,000 plus into personally, had been foreclosed upon, I had never been informed of this by the bank. And the bank wasn’t handing over to me proof of who actually owned my mortgage, nor that they had the note, and they did not even have proof my mortgage had ever been assigned to them. Which made it an illegal foreclosure.

    I took them to court, but could not find a lawyer, because every lawyer I spoke to claimed “the Kane country judges are all bought out by the banks.” Needless to say, I found out the lawyers were correct, “the Kane county judges were bought out by the banks.” Right around this time my 46 year old husband unexpectedly died, leaving me as a recently widowed woman with two young children. But I wasn’t about to let a bank that was screwing my family over by illegally foreclosing upon us, to profit from their crimes.

    So I decided to short sell my home to a family, and let a nice family profit from the bank’s crimes, as opposed to the bank. A home I bought in 1998 for $250,000, and personally rehabbed and put $250,000 or more into, sold for $145,000 in the fall of 2012, due to the grotesquely undervalued housing market at that time. The bank was really pissed at me, because they also lost hundreds of thousands, so they fraudulently defamed me as having gone through a bankruptcy, which I never did. Similar homes today on that street are selling for in the range of $350,000 – $450,000.

    My point, MM, is we have a bunch of so called “professionals” who are staggering in scope criminals, so empathy is important for all of us so called “regular people.” Thankfully, since I come from an ethical and fiscally responsible, non-war mongering and profiteering, Christian American banking family, so I’m not homeless. Nor did I ever result to drug dealing, as you seem to claim all those who are down on their luck result to, and deserve no empathy.

    I agree with Steve, “There are plenty of legal businesses (like making money off of forced “treatment”) that are just as slimy and evil as the illegal drug trade. The problem is when people are financially rewarded for doing destructive things. No amount of policing will ever stop the drug trade as long as people can make so much more money than they can doing honest work.”

    And I believe the “legal” forced and coerced with lies drugging of ethical Americans by the psychiatrists should be made illegal.