Misconceptions and Truths About Schizophrenia and Crime - Soapboxie - Politics
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Misconceptions and Truths About Schizophrenia and Crime

Mark is from Utah. He is married and has 3 children. He is a graduate of the University of Utah.

There are several misconceptions about crime and mental illness. That said, some mentally ill people do become violent. Read on to learn more about this.

There are several misconceptions about crime and mental illness. That said, some mentally ill people do become violent. Read on to learn more about this.

Schizophrenia “causes paranoia, disorganized thinking, delusions, and hallucinations, including irrational beliefs and seeing things, or hearing voices…” (Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan, Statement on Violence Associated with Schizophrenia, 1997) Sometimes, these people believe that a radio, television, or other source is speaking or giving instructions to them. While it's a rare occurrence, these hallucinations can lead to violent behavior.

Only a Small Percentage of Schizophrenics Are Violent.

Only a small percentage of those suffering from schizophrenia are violent. But when there is no treatment or medication, especially over a long period of time, acts of violence, including homicide, can occur. Violence is usually a result of irrational beliefs or feeling threatened (paranoia). Some schizophrenics, who do receive treatment, will use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. The more substance abuse occurs, the higher the chances of violent behavior.

Other Factors That Cause Violence

  • Child abuse
  • Helplessness
  • Insults to masculinity
  • Specific sexual abnormalities
  • Death of a loved on or friend
  • Alienation of a lover
  • Loss of a job
  • Epilepsy
While only a small percentage of people diagnosed with schizophrenia are prone to violence. De-escalating tension when someone suffering from the illness becomes violent can be very tricky.

While only a small percentage of people diagnosed with schizophrenia are prone to violence. De-escalating tension when someone suffering from the illness becomes violent can be very tricky.

Examples of Destructive Behavior Caused by Schizophrenia

  • Some examples of destruction of property: One man smashed a store window because he believed a dinosaur was jumping out at him. Patients have thrown rocks at cars. One man attacked a telephone booth with an ax.
  • Examples of self-destructive behavior: One patient went to Sears, purchased a chainsaw, then took it to the women’s room and severely injured herself because of voices she heard. “Approx. 40% of people with schizophrenia attempt suicide and 10% complete the act, apparently as a result of the voices or to escape the suffering caused by the voices and other symptoms. By far, the majority of serious violent acts... are directed toward themselves.” (Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan)
  • Examples of violence directed toward others: Schizophrenics sometimes believe that voices are commanding them to kill. In Delaware County, PA, a judge ruled that a man was incompetent to stand trial in the slaying of wrestler David Schultz. All the psychiatrists who testified agreed that the patient suffered from psychotic delusions, and some of those doctors diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic (What it Means to be Psychotic, Schizophrenic, Paranoid, by Marie McCollough). In 1848, a man was not admitted to the insane asylum because it was crowded. Shortly thereafter, instructed by voices, he killed his mother and father. In 1986, a man was not admitted to a local psychiatric hospital—also because of overcrowding. Shortly thereafter, instructed by voices telling him to kill, he carried a sword aboard a Staten Island ferry and killed two strangers. A year earlier, a woman pushed a stranger into the path of a subway train. A New Jersey man felt his neighbors where persecuting and belittling him, made a list of his persecutors, then systematically killed 13 people in 20 minutes (from Surviving Schizophrenia, by E. Fuller Torrey).
  • Examples of how schizophrenia affects other people: One woman refused to pay at restaurants because she believed she was Jesus Christ reincarnated. One man was arrested for repeatedly following two men he believed were CIA agents and kidnapped his imaginary benefactress. Some people walk nude in the streets.
Unfortunately, media outlets use schizophrenia as a kind of buzz word that attracts attention to an article. This muddies their reporting.

Unfortunately, media outlets use schizophrenia as a kind of buzz word that attracts attention to an article. This muddies their reporting.

Patrick O'Brien on Violence and Schizophrenia

In The Disordered Mind-What We Know About Schizophrenia, Patrick O’Brien says, "…there is good evidence for tendency to paranoia among criminals. If one is prone to violence to begin with, then a disorganizing process like schizophrenia... may execrate those tendencies. A violent individual who becomes schizophrenic will be both violent and schizophrenic."

Samuel Cohen on Misreporting Violet Crime

However, in The Lancet, Samuel Cohen says, “Reports of violent crime in the popular press often state that a schizophrenic patient was responsible, although the press report frequently reveals that the person was drinking or taking drugs at the time of the incident. Imprecise diagnosis encourages journalists to use the word schizophrenia indiscriminately and helps to give the condition a bad name.”

The publicity around mental illnesses can give false impressions of these illnesses.

The publicity around mental illnesses can give false impressions of these illnesses.

Highly Publicized Crimes by Schizophrenics

Violent crimes committed by persons with schizophrenia are sometimes publicized because of their background. The examples below are from Surviving Schizophrenia, by E. Fuller Torrey.

  • John Bradley, All-American hockey goalie and honors student at Bowdoin College, brutally killed his father and mother.
  • John Hinkley Jr., who was schizophrenic, tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan.
  • In 1983, the son of Ronald Reagan’s tax attorney, a man with schizophrenia, killed his mother.
  • Rosemary Kennedy, sister of JFK, was said to have wild moods, tantrums, and rage. She became kind of a wild animal by cursing and thrashing out. She would use her fists. She kit and kicked her grandfather in the summer of 1941.

The Stats

While the risk of violence from schizophrenics is still low, the uncomfortable truth is that “A worldwide 1996 study found that schizophrenic patients were five times more likely than people in the general population to be convicted of violent crimes. A Finnish study concluded that the risk of committing a homicide was about ten times greater.” (On Conquering Schizophrenia: From the Desk of a Therapist and Survivor, by Robert Francis)

A Few Solutions to Schizophrenic Violence

  • One-to-one confrontation from a calm source attempting to de-escalate the aggression is often the best solution. The patient should be helped to recognize their rage and other emotions so they can realize the consequences of their behavior.
  • The supreme court has ruled that a psychiatrist has a duty to issue a warning when they encounter a patient who threatens violence.
One of the best ways to handle violence linked to schizophrenia is to avoid it altogether. Increased access to therapy for schizophrenics can lead to less cases of violence.

One of the best ways to handle violence linked to schizophrenia is to avoid it altogether. Increased access to therapy for schizophrenics can lead to less cases of violence.

Sources

© 2020 Mark Richardson

Thoughts?

Mark Richardson (author) from Utah on February 26, 2020:

That is crazy. I'm glad that he didn't harm you.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on February 26, 2020:

Very interesting article, Mark. It makes me wonder if schizophrenia accompanies other illnesses, too. I worked with a young man who had Tourette's Syndrome. He seemed to really like me and "befriended" me. Later, he suffered a tragedy in his life, after which he turned on me and threatened to kill me. He was fired from his job for performance reasons, not for his threats. About 10 years later, he was convicted of killing his wife and went to prison where he later died. Although he had Tourette's, he was obviously a paranoid schizophrenic.

asereht1970 from Philippines on February 26, 2020:

Nice article. Nowadays there is really a big need to understand mental health better.