Columbia University Medical Center
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital The University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell
April 20, 2009

Predicting whether patients with mental disorders will become violent is a dicey business, and one the legal system has thrust upon mental-health workers. A new study encouragingly suggests that swift swings in the intensity of symptoms can often peg which psychiatric patients are on the verge of threatening or hurting others.

Employing a statistical technique called dynamic systems modeling, the new work shows that among psychiatric patients with documented histories of committing violent acts, those whose symptoms of emotional distress rapidly and repeatedly fluctuated from mild to severe during a 26-week period were particularly apt to assault others or to threaten them with a weapon, say psychologist Candice Odgers of the University of California, Irvine and her colleagues.


In cases of rapid symptom fluctuation, patients went from peaks to valleys of emotional health about every two to four weeks, the team reports in a paper published online April 15 and slated to appear in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Although the new findings are intriguing, further research must clarify what percentage of psychiatric patients

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