Can General Strain Theory Help Us Understand Violent Behaviors Among People with Mental Illnesses?

Nathan W. Link, Francis T. Cullen, Robert Agnew, Bruce G. Link

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Recent work suggests that violence among people with mental illnesses is not simply due to the symptoms and comorbidities that define mental illness. We further this work by examining the extent to which strains or stressors explain the link between mental illness and violence. Specifically, we apply general strain theory (GST) to a longitudinal sample of adults with mental illnesses to investigate the lagged effects on violence of several strain measures, while controlling for mental illness symptoms, substance abuse, past violence, and other key variables. Parental drug abuse from childhood and stressful life events across the life course predict violence in adulthood. In a prospective model, relationship strain from an earlier time period significantly predicts changes in later self-reported violence. The results shed light on the ability of criminological frameworks to explain violence among people with mental illnesses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)729-754
Number of pages26
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 6 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


  • general strain theory
  • mental disorder
  • mental illness and violence
  • relationship strain
  • stressful life events
  • symptomatic violence


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