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Schizophrenia Stigma and Violence

Rashmi Nemade, Ph.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Stigma and Violence

One of the lasting legacies of the historical movement to institutionalize mental patients is the idea that they are in need of being segregated from society because they pose a danger to society. Today, when schizophrenia is mentioned in the news, it is almost always in connection with some alarming crime. Some stories that have been popular in the media and which have added to the public view that schizophrenics are violent and dangerous include the case of Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children in a bout of postpartum psychosis, David Berkowitz, the serial killer infamously known as the Son of Sam who claimed his dog spoke to him and urged him to kill, Mark David Chapman, the man who killed Beatle John Lennon, and John Hinckley, who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.

While there are certainly violent and murderous people who have schizophrenia and related mental illnesses, such individuals make up only a very small portion of the population of chronically mentally ill people. The vast majority of mentally ill people, including schizophrenic people, are non-violent people who never cause problems of this sort. Large population studies that have examined the relationship between violence and mental illness have shown at best a small relationship between mental illness and violence exists. This small relationship between violence and mental illness is dwarfed by the much larger relationship between substance abuse problems and violence. There is far more risk that a drug addict or alcoholic will harm you than will a schizophrenic person, and more to the point, far more risk that someone who harms you will be a 'normal' person rather than a mentally ill one simply because there are so many more 'normal' people out there. The reputation that the chronically mentally ill have as being problematically violent is thus quite exaggerated and overblown. Unfortunately, the stigma of violence surrounding the chronically mentally ill continues to plague those who suffer from these diseases.

 




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