Characteristics of Patients Involved in Physical Assault in an Acute Inpatient Psychiatric Setting

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Although aggressive behavior in psychiatric settings is a major concern, very few studies have focused exclusively on physical assault in a general inpatient psychiatric population.


This study had 3 main goals: (1) to evaluate the prevalence of assaultive behavior in an acute psychiatric hospital; (2) to identify the clinical and socio-demographic factors associated with assaultive behavior during hospitalization; and (3) to explore whether a diagnosis of schizophrenia spectrum disorder increases the risk of assaultive behavior.


We conducted a retrospective chart review of patients admitted to acute units in a psychiatric hospital between 2009 and 2012. A subset of occurrence reports identified by a multidisciplinary team as “physical assault” was included in the analysis. Using logistic multivariate regression analysis, these patients were compared with a randomly selected nonassaultive control group, matched for length of stay to identify factors associated with assaultive behavior.


Of 757 occurrence reports, 613 met criteria for significant assault committed by 356 patients over 309,552 patient days. The assault incident density was 1.98 per 1000 patient days. In the logistic regression model of best fit, the factors significantly associated with assaultive behavior were age, legal status, and substance use. A diagnosis of schizophrenia spectrum disorder was not significantly associated with assaultive behavior.


Clinicians should take extra precautions for involuntarily admitted young patients with a history of substance use, as they are more likely to exhibit assaultive behavior. A diagnosis of schizophrenia spectrum disorder in itself is not significantly associated with assaultive behavior. Screening instruments such as the Dynamic Appraisal of Situational Aggression may be useful in assessing risk of assault.

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