Police Violence Victims at Increased Risk of Psychotic Symptoms

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


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.”

Photo Credit: Flickr

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.



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)

Previous articleNew Book Takes Aim at the Mental Health Industrial Complex
Next articleWhen the Mad Research the Mad
Rebecca Troeger
MIA Research News Team: 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.


    • they cops are not crazy and mentally ill narcissists . they have respect and honor still . probably responsible for they actions … many countries they don’t have guns … they do they job correct . they raise kids better instead of government and feds media and education we get … your manipulated from birth to be a criminal or thug or abusive cop. they culture and beliefs are not diluted like us . probably still have strong family values morals and religion . religion shows life , human behavior . laws of life and laws of universe and nature .. they know the order and how universe and society works. usa we walk around blind and we are better than everyone else . lol. we don’t fallow perminant laws of world history and nature and dna . we throw darts in the dark .. could look at truths of history, even just rome .. bible has guidelines for life and laws .. guide to law making … we lost that in last 30 years . i can’t even talk about it … many people are demented . bible says devil people, solve in sheets clothing .. even teaches government abuse and how to deal with it .. what not to do . but they tell us we free and have rights .. i can’t even talk about it … worlds backwards and people are lost … you asked a great question … time to relax and maybe read bible verse … keeps ya calm. forgive the devil people cause they mentally ill and other people ignorant and don’t know what they do . and we all not perfect.. lol. i forgive my abusers . i just can’t talk about it .. lol. trauma is a son of a gun .

      Report comment

  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.


    Report comment

    • 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.

      Report comment

    • 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.

      Report comment

      • you get it .. they are dilusional and controlling injuring .. same as rapist being judge jury of his own rape case. same as some one walks up starts punching you . if you react in any way say to protect your life or cover face or run, its your the guilty party or mentally ill … same as if your nervous of coronavirus your mentally ill, cause most likely wont get it , irrational thinking. they don’t have emotions . seen where if got raped and if in same situation you feel anxiety your mentally ill . they flip everything . you don’t let them kill you its your fault for resisting … courts and law makers .. people do they jobs intentionally to hurt fraud people and some do it can have to and ignorance .. need more family values and culture again .. go back to bible it teaches human dna and world history of people don’t change . permanent laws vs mans slavery laws . laws based on world history , nature . dna , science , ethics morals. make laws against gravity but universe don’t care. you die if disobey gravity . you fall down form gravity so tickets for falling down and laws preventing death don’t override the laws of universe and nature .. today they make laws against natural reactions and human behavior. pretty evil . self defense is natural instinct . even if your attacked facing serious injury and they breaking the laws your guilty . why people lay still while bad cops beat the face in . they know if they slip its a felony . go to prison if they accidentally hit a cop who is beating them to death when they have no warrant or charged with a crime . not even under arrest .. they accidentally scratch the cop they get a felony .. educations gone . government run . debt system for banks and corps workers. i stop now. i seen it all . i fell into the trap .. recovering from the stress and drugs .. injuries … forgive ya enemies . they get ya with the stress and bad memories . mind game kills ya leg term health . bad people never happy so feel bad for them . only happy when hurting some one. now turning military into guards and cops .. start promoting the crazy guys .. democratic nazis system … promote the yes man who do anything protected by government .. what they do for drone operators .. as it is now 9/11 laws made it stasis nazis police force or could say Israeli tactics which are the same and brutal … criminal justice now. not justice system . pray for good people to help you … i became christian and might go quaker … be peaceful , stay calm . they hang you out … set up . going through lots things . lawyer don’t tell ya everything set back up to mental health again . may never hit court room from trauma and fraud and don’t even know whats going on . keep hanging your self cause your american , think got rights … sneak you into ward system . can’t even get out .. any way i enjoyed your comment . smart man. back to positive and happy thoughts … trauma and stress abuse causes psychosis and metal illness . why they do it . fraud lies and they destabilize you . fear is massive. they kill ya get away with it … few died here and in daylight one. be surprised if it wasn’t feds or of duty cop.. another kid died in apartment . they saw cop near there mother dated .. love triangle . took the black guy to court twice . cop never got questioned. lol.

        Report comment

    • 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.

      Report comment

    • Look at prisons and police procedures in Norway. https://youtu.be/esUeZOZkqrQ



      They still have crime, but the methods of approach to criminals – they consider it more skillful to talk before shooting.

      It is the culture of police in America to shoot first (kill the dog, even) and ask questions later. The Norwegian cops find this shocking.

      Additionally, the military-industrial complex, in order to keep the American military buying newer better equipment – have a special program (tied in with the “war on drugs”) to hand down old military equipment to police forces.

      We used to never see the SWAT teams, busted doors, military style police operations. That has become de rigeur, now that they have tanks and armour. Is busting crime really more violent than it was before they got this equipment?

      Put a man (or woman) in armour and he tends to act more like a soldier. The uniform does have an effect.

      The other bottom line – Norway (for example) has greater equality between citizens, while the US is stricken with vast variance between the bottom 99% and the top 1%. It is a given that greater inequality equals more violence in trying to get your needs met.

      These are just a few factors (I haven’t even touched on the race button).

      Report comment

    • haha . you don’t get it . suppress and degrade abuse you . they have technology . they fallow harass people threaten off duty … on phone they take private conversations or Facebook posts back to you r face .. very disturbing and destabilize you . they can stalk you , sit out side ya house .. when ever your out even on bicycle stop by ya speed off showing force. put ya in ward its murdr . then they show up and can threaten the ward . they make fraud statements lie on the record … to et you killed discredited and your mentally ill. they don’t record crimes against you and harassment . so cops let other people ruin your life . when you snap from pressure of cops harrasingyou . they put ya in a ward. they pke push threaten . they use psychotic behavior against you . regular procedure and many cops have narcissism aka personality disorders. mentally ill and manipulative … after that destroy ya life . they [presence give ya ptsd . they every where .. massive trauma and stress problems . they got friends your in trouble if they dot like you … many cops are psychotic assholes .. some good ones but mentally ill usually run to power jobs and agents .. lucky if godly people or decent people get in the jobs .. only so many nice good people. got people in middle they aggressive if pissed off. then a lot of demented people like nazis become cops … license ti hurt people protected by courts .. facts .. just getting over it .. also might never survive it now . hook ya mess ya up . then hang ya in media . get away with crimes every day .. unfortunalty … lucky you . you still think what the want you to believe. lol. i understand why … i knew it was bad . found out it was way worse than imaginable . most discriminating people . many of them and they get into court system . they can make fake criminal history and fraud you to prison. many people in prison did nothing but talk to investigator to help out . they pin twist nothing at all to have a person to pin crime on so public feels safe and thank the cops. depends on who you get … i still cant believe what i know . article is dead nuts right on .

      Report comment

  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.


    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.

    Report comment

  3. The truth is the dynamics discussed in the article are universal: social defeat, marginalization, manipulation and coercion all increase the likelihood of psychosis for targets of these types of behavior. The police certainly are guilty of this, under substantial, imminent and constant stress, while the liberal arts professors are guilty of the same dynamics from a place of social privilege.

    Start writing articles about misuse of authority and power across systems, including your own academic sphere that targets and marginalizes Republicans, Christians, libertarians and MANY other groups, rather than simply targeting the police because it’s “hip” and “progressive”.

    Report comment

  4. i know that i suffered from PTSD symptoms and flashbacks and anxiety responses from witnessing and experiencing police violence as a non violent activist in riot police situations- i participated in many demonstrations in my 20s, and stuff started resurfacing in my 30s. i’m glad mad in america is covering this. i’m also very sad and upset that many black and latino men and boys have fear of police violence as a daily struggle in the USA.

    Report comment