For many years, it was argued that people with major mental illnesses were no more likely to commit violent crimes than anyone else. This has been shown to be false in numerous studies completed over the past twenty years. There is an increased incidence of violent crimes in people with mood disorders, including bipolar disorder. In many of the studies specific diagnoses were not separated out, so it’s difficult to come up with a consistent number that correlates directly to bipolar. It appears that without additional risk factors for violence, most notably the use of drugs and alcohol, the risk associated with bipolar disorder is real, but small. The overwhelming majority of people with bipolar disorder do not commit violent acts. Furthermore, just as with suicide, the desire to do harm to others is typically a state that eventually passes. With appropriate intervention, this critical period can be safely managed.
Verbalizations or actions that indicate someone is thinking of harming or killing another person represent an emergency that must be taken seriously. It’s quite natural for family and loved ones to downplay the seriousness of a situation, thinking things such as: “Oh, he doesn’t mean that; he wouldn’t hurt a fly” or “she’s just being hot headed.” There is too much at risk when someone is actively manic, with or without psychosis, and expressing thoughts of wanting to harm another person; it’s important to err on the side of safety and seek emergent help until the crisis passes.