Improving the mental health of victims of violence: new guidance from the Royal College of Psychiatrists


The mental health needs of victims of violence are going unrecognised and there is a lack of joined-up services to support their needs, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

People who are injured in or affected by physical violence, including sexual violence, are at risk of developing mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and substance misuse problems. But services to help these people are relatively underdeveloped.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has today published new guidance to improve mental health outcomes for people affected by violence. The guidance, Managing the impact of violence on mental health, including among witnesses and those affected by homicide, has been developed in partnership with the Royal College of General Practitioners, the College of Emergency Medicine and the national charity Victim Support.

Professor Jonathan Shepherd, Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and co-author of the new statement, said:

Having treated people injured by violence for many years, I’m convinced that the mental health problems that are inflicted are often more serious and long-lasting than their physical injuries. About 300,000 victims of violence are treated in emergency departments in England and Wales each year and about 40% of these will go on to have mental health problems. But although the mental health impacts of violence are common, they are also often neglected. We hope this guidance will help make sure that people who are victims of violence get the help they need.

The new guidance includes a new stepped care pathway to show how emergency departments, GPs and the criminal justice system can work better together to identify those people who show signs of mental ill health and provide them with information about relevant support services.

The guidance recommends:

  • Health professionals who treat those affected by violence and the health services in which they work should be recognised as major advocates for victim health and wellbeing.
  • Doctors working in emergency settings should refer patients with signs of mental health problems as a result of violence to third sector support services or to the patient’s GP, depending on the severity.
  • Victim support and other competent statutory and third-sector personnel should refer victims and others affected by violence who demonstrate signs of mental ill health to primary care health professionals for further assessment.

Javed Khan, Chief Executive of Victim Support said:

Our trained volunteers have been helping victims deal with the emotional and psychological effects of all kinds of crime for nearly 40 years. We are therefore keenly aware of the psychological impact that being a victim of violent crime can have. Victim Support has systems to identify and refer victims to mental health services, where it is needed. However, greater collaboration between all the agencies and individuals involved to ensure that more victims with trauma-related and mental health conditions are identified and appropriately referred would benefit all involved – not least victims. We look forward to working with the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other parties to ensure more victims get the help they need.


Managing the impact of violence on mental health, including among witnesses and those affected by homicide (PDF). Royal College of Psychiatrists, 11 Jul 2012.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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