Red Flags: Warnings Signs of Violence That You Should Know

Red Flags: Warnings Signs of Violence That You Should Know
by Pete Earley


(7-8-16) Dear Pete, In your recent blog post, “Violence and Mental Illness: An Uncomfortable Subject But A Grim Reality For Some Families,” there are frequent references to “warning signs.” Please tell us what all the warning signs are. –K. Y.

I passed this email request to my friend and fellow advocate Doris Fuller, Chief of Research and Public Affairs at the Treatment Advocacy Center, who wrote poignantly and eloquently in the Washington Post about her own daughter’s illness and eventual suicide. Here is her thoughtful reply.
Red Flags for Family Violence

Risk factors

Most people with serious mental illness are not violent. However, a small percentage not being treated may be violent toward family members or others. According to Surviving Schizophrenia: A Family Manual, the three most important predictors of violence are:

Past history or threats of violence, against family members or others;
Concurrent alcohol or drug abuse; and
Failure to take prescribed antipsychotic medications.

Additional risk factors that have been found to be significant are:

Being 20 to 35 years old
Delusions of being persecuted, watched or attacked (“paranoia”)
“Command hallucinations” that order the person to engage in a specific behavior (e.g., hearing a “voice” that orders the person to commit a violent act to end world hunger)

As the number of risk factors present increases, risk increases

I discussed the concept of violence and nonviolence…from another viewpoint, MINE.

But the editor decided it shouldn’t be published. The emptiness I must deal with feels violent as well as pathetic, I’m the caretaker btw. I manage but it is a shocking thing to be so ignored and then ignored by all I reach out to here.

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I’m so sorry you feel so alone. I don’t know how many family members share the experience of a very violent son or daughter but I agree we aren’t embraced. I worked with a large number of parents of kids with serious mental health disorders and I quickly understood they couldn’t think about their child having the seriously difficult problems my son has. It frightened them and that wasn’t good they needed to hang on to hope as they should.
My son tried to kill me. I’m lucky, I survived. I think we’re a small club no one wants to be in. The frustration is we really, really need support and understanding and getting connected to others walking this lonely and dangerous path is very hard. No one wants to help because we in this country are so stuck on recovery the families of those who can’t recover are a problem to be ignored least we burst the bubble that recovery isn’t possible for some. My son was recently evaluated by two doctors for a commitment hearing. They both agreed he had brain damage from the psychotropic medications he’s been on since he was 14. Would he be alive today without those drugs? His doctors say he would not. But there is little longterm research about giving these powerful drugs to kids and the impact it has on their brains and bodies down the road. This has been so hard and heartbreaking. It has had a huge impact on our entire family. And we are alone in our anguish.


My son was violent toward me, too. And other mothers on this board have had that experience too. The fact is that many or most of us make no police report about the violence we experience.

I didn’t report it because at some level, even before he was diagnosed, I knew that my son was not ’ in his right mind.’ I didn’t know why or what to do about it, but I knew that. I didn’t report him to the police because I also knew that he was ‘vulnerable’. He’s not a tough guy. He couldn’t possibly survive in jail.

I made my son leave home. I paid for his ticket and sent him to another family member. From there he went to another. From there he eventually found his own place. Eventually, he had a psychotic episode and all became clear. And he got treatment.

All the way through I have tried to maintain our relationship and support him when he needs help. I no longer have to stay away from him to be safe. We are very close again these days.

I am glad that he has come through without a criminal record, without actually living on the street (I had to find a temporary home for him at one point).

I might add here that his story might very well be different. He might say that I made him homeless and that’s why he had an episode. He doesn’t fully accept his diagnosis yet, so he cannot recognize that he was paranoid and aggressive in his prodrome period.

But, yes, it is common to say that people with mental illness are not violent, that they are more often the victims of violence, but MI like depression is included in that. Bipolar and schizophrenia are often not separated out. And even if they were, you are still only talking about reported levels of violence. Much of it is covered up.


Hey beautiful people — You are not alone; our son tried to kill my husband with a knife and was arrested. The warning signs above are right on. We had always worried about it but we didn’t believe it would actually happen the way it did. Luckily, my husband and son were not hurt physically but it did serious damage to both of them and all of us.

We’re figuring this out as we go but here are our new rules:

  • If not med compliant, our son has to leave our house. I wish we gave him the meds but it’s pretty obvious when he’s not med compliant.

  • No drug abuse in our home and luckily he lives in Independent living which doesn’t tolerate it either.

Our son wants to move home but I think it would be a mistake. Luckily, my husband and I are now on the same page, most of the time, so it’s a journey and I pray and work with his doctor’s who are doing pretty great now at working with our son.

Hugs to all :slight_smile:


Mental health court is a way to make a person with mental illness accountable for actions while taking the illness into consideration.