We are all sadly aware that there is a stigma associated with schizophrenia, largely perpetrated by the movie industry. Popular media loves to use the mental illness of schizophrenia as the basis and motivation for the actions of their villains, especially in horror movies. This gives the general public a misperception of the people living with schizophrenia, lending to a negative and unfounded bias. But is it truly unbiased?
Well, there has been much research performed and meta-analyses done to attempt to perceive the core of this issue. As it turns out, there is some support for the idea that schizophrenics are more violent than the general public. But recognize that the previous statement is very vague. The question must be, “How much more violent are schizophrenics than the general public?” What is the true relationship between schizophrenia and violence? Let’s take a closer look at the reality of the situation.
The Truth Concerning Schizophrenia and Violence
I will support the statements I will make from this point forward by referring to this fine piece of meta-research by several doctors who analyzed all of the relevant research available concerning the correlations between violence and schizophrenia. As stated above, the underlying assumption by the public is that people suffering with schizophrenia are more violent than members of the general public for whatever reason that may be, including psychosis, fear and paranoia, an increased perception of danger and the need to defend themselves, etc. This is no longer to be denied, according to this study. However, what should ultimately be taken from the conclusions is that the percentage of overall violence attributable to perpetrators living with schizophrenia is proportionately minute. It is so minuscule as to make the bias related to schizophrenia and violent acts laughable.
So, by reviewing what was deemed to be relevant literature of large importance, the epidemiology of violent schizophrenic acts was determined with high confidence. Again, it is confirmed that the incidence of violence does occur in higher frequency in those dealing with schizophrenia, but how much more and to what impact does this carry on society and the general population? With variation in the percentage, it was determined that in every case that the violent crimes related to schizophrenia was always below 10% as the high threshold.
Removing Substance Abuse from the Schizophrenia and Violence Equation
If we consider the results of the research above, saying that 10% is the high threshold for violence in schizophrenics but that the true number fluctuates somewhere lower, then that still seems astounding. But remove the incidence of violence in the general public, which takes into account everyone who commits acts of violence for whatever reason, including all mental health issues, then we begin to get a more true look at the percentage of violent acts we can attribute to schizophrenia that otherwise may not have occurred. This number is already appearing to be much lower.
But specifically, that number that remains should still be lower. People living with schizophrenia deal with their suffering in many ways. One of the ways people cope with schizophrenia is to self-medicate using legal and illegal substances in manners not approved by medical professionals. Substance abuse tends to make anyone act in extreme and bizarre fashions that they normally wouldn’t partake in. It can cause paranoia, fear, hallucinations, delusions, and more. If we remove the incidences of violence associated with schizophrenia that also feature the co-morbidity of substance abuse then the percentage drops further. Schizophrenia and violence only appear to have a great relationship when in actuality there are many other factors involved that skew the data.
What Can Be Done, Then, About Schizophrenia and Violence?
So now that we’ve cleared the air, we can all agree that while schizophrenia and violence may have a slightly higher correlated relationship than that of the general public, the amount is so ridiculously small that it is not a true cause of alarm. The way that the general public perceives this issue is totally exaggerated and unfair to the individual dealing with schizophrenia symptoms. So what we need to do is remove the emphasis that is placed on the relative and comparative risk of encountering violence when around a schizophrenic versus anyone else, and look at the absolute numbers. The true numbers reveal that, while the risk is slightly higher, there is no real threat of being attacked in some fashion when spending time around someone suffering with schizophrenia. The risk, in all practicality and in a pragmatic way, is equal. The difference is negligible.
It is our duty then to use knowledge and reason to correct the misperceptions, the myths, and the lies whenever we encounter them. We should approach this without emotionality but with logic. State the facts and then move on. A reasonable person will listen and adjust his or her thinking. If they don’t, they are unreasonable and nothing will change their minds regardless. Spread the truth of the relationship between schizophrenia and violence and contribute to the decreasing and minimizing of suffering and stigma for all of us!