CLAIM: You are more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a person with mental illness
FACT: This is untrue.

The latest statistics show 77 people with ‘symptoms of mental illness at the time ofthe offence’s were convicted for murder or manslaughter (2005).[1]

That year the number of people killed by lightning was just 2.[2]

And that was the highest figure for five years.

Official figures record that

  • five people were killed by lightning over the last five years – whereas
  • Some 339 mentally ill people were convicted for murder or manslaughter over the same period. (Figures for 2001 – 2005 inclusive).

But this doesn’st include mentally ill people who kill someone then commit suicide afterwards, it doesn’st include cases in Scotland or Northern Ireland, and it doesn’st include cases where there are multiple victims.

It’s estimated that iff you include all these factors, the true number of victims of mental health homicides in Britain is more than 100 each year – or 500 over the five year period.

Sometimes the claim is put differently:

CLAIM: You are more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a person with schizophrenia.
FACT: Again this is untrue.

Official projected figures show around 40 people with schizophrenia were convicted
of a homicide in 2005 against the 2 that died from lightning.

And over the last five years, some 190 people with schizophrenia have been convicted of a homicide offence against the five that were killed by lightning.

And sometimes the claim is put yet even more subtly.

CLAIM: You have as much chance of being hit by lightning as being killed by a stranger with a mental health problem.
FACT: Again this is untrue.

According to official statistics, twelve mentally ill perpetrators were convicted in 2005 of murdering strangers – against the two who were killed by lightning.

(Over five years – 39 mentally ill perpetrators against 5 lightning fatalities).

We don’st know however if any of these cases killed multiple victims, nor if there were any suicides following stranger homicides. The figures only apply to England and Wales.

A recent study in Scotland some 16% of all homicides by people with mental health problems were of strangers.[3]

A local study[4] in London of 40 mental health homicides between 2002 and 2006 found 15 of them concerned fatal attacks on strangers – over 37% of the total

But this is missing the point.

It’s well known that the most likely victims of mental health homicides are the patients own families and friends.

So saying stranger homicides are unlikely is hardly reassuring to the parents, children and acquaintances of severely mentally ill people who are statistically most at risk of being killed by a person with mental illness. (There were 51 such cases in England and Wales in 2005 alone)


1. Latest official statistics from National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness (NCISH) Annual Report England and Wales July 2009

Perpetrators with mental illness at time of offence from Table 8, p 33,
Perpetrators with schizophrenia from Figure 21, p 32, and Perpetrators with mental illness who kill strangers from Figure 23, p 35



2. Fatalities following lightning strikes from
Office of National Statistics – Mortality Statistics – Annual Reviews – Series DH2. Editions 28
– 32 (2001 – 2005) (ICD-10 Underlying cause code X33 Victim of lightning).


3. Figure for mentally ill who kill strangers in Scotland

National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness Lessons for Mental Health Care in Scotland, June 2008,

Table 21 p 125



4. London Local Study of 40 MH Homicides is from NHS London (Caring Solutions Ltd),
Learning From Experience – April 2008, p 12/13. (Unpublished – obtained under the Freedom of Information Act)


Three different versions of the Lightning quote are from BBC News 9 August 2009;

Daily Telegraph 10 August 2009;

‘Time to Change’ Summer advertising campaign;

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive Mind (BBC News 28 July 2009);

Royal College of Psychiatrists, Changing Minds campaign;

Prof George Szmukler, Institute of Psychiatry.

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